WASHINGTON - The seminal moment occurred in a press box in Raleigh, N.C. In mid-November, with nary a bruise to complain about, Brayden Schenn found himself with a bird's-eye view of his teammates as they played the Carolina Hurricanes.

Five goals in his first 16 games, too many nights in which he mustered a shot or two, a hit or two, a stretch of eight games before that night in which he mustered only a single goal - all had conspired to bounce him so far down the depth chart that new coach Dave Hakstol thought his new team had a better chance with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Chris Vandevelde, Ryan White or Scott Laughton on the ice than the former fifth overall draft pick.

At least for that night.

"To be honest I don't think the season started the way I wanted it to," Schenn said Friday, as he rode a stationary bike before an optional practice at the Verizon Center. "I wasn't playing a whole lot in the start of the year. I got healthy-scratched. And after that healthy scratch, he just threw me in the lineup and said, 'You've gotta show me what you can do.' "

"And it's been good ever since."

Bouncing between the first and second lines for much of the season, Schenn's 26 goals and 39 assists are career highs. They also reflect growth in other areas, as well. For the first time in his five seasons with the Flyers, Schenn finished a regular season with a positive plus-minus. Despite amping up the physical side of his game, he also finished with only 33 minutes of penalties.

Wayne Simmonds and White, two players with physical styles, were over 100. Even Claude Giroux had 53 minutes of penalties. None, even Simmonds, can deliver the kind of tone-setting hits with which Schenn began and ended his Game 1 effort against Washington, launching Caps defenseman Kyle Alzner off his feet and into the boards as the buzzer sounded, scuffling with the entire Washington team afterward, sticking a Post-it for Saturday night's Game 2 here, perhaps.

"That's my game," he said. "I think when I'm physical it gets me involved, gets me the puck, creates some space out there for me. That's just all part of my game. And I think when I'm physical, it brings out the best of my game."

Schenn registered six hits Thursday night, more the twice the number of any teammate besides Simmonds (three). Before Sean Couturier was launched from the game by Alex Ovechkin's thundering hit, the Flyers' second line had provided the rare few near-misses around Washington's net the visitors had.

With Couturier out of this series, at least, Schenn undoubtedly will slide over from right wing to center, as he has done intermittently through this season, and for chunks of previous ones.

Earlier this season, when Couturier missed 18 games because of injuries, Schenn scored eight goals and assisted on six others.

"He's very comfortable in both spots," Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. "In fact, all three spots up front."

Back in November, comfortable is the last word you, the coach, even the player himself would have used to describe any position he was put in - even a seat in the press box.

"Ever since that healthy scratch, he's put me in a good situation to succeed and prove myself," Schenn said of Hakstol. "Which I think I have . . . I've built a pretty good relationship with him. And enjoy playing with him. He's taught me a lot. I think he's made me a better two-way player."

I asked Hakstol on Thursday whether he could pinpoint one change that came from Schenn's November benching. He at first scoffed at its importance, but perhaps realizing that it was to the player, he then said: "His commitment to his 200-foot game. His hunger to improve all the little areas in his game as he grows and matures as a player has been impressive. And it's been effective throughout the year."

Now though, with Couturier out and so little offense generated by the Flyers in Game 1, effective is probably not good enough. Punishing, prolific, dominant - Schenn will need to amp his game to another level if the Flyers hope to make this a series.

"I know I have to be a go-to guy on this team for us to be successful," he said. "Coach Hakstol has given me an opportunity. He put me in a good position where I have to try and be an important guy for this team. And going forward, if we're going to do anything in this series, I feel like I have to be a big part of it."

@samdonnellon

philly.com/SamDonnellon