Flyers Notes: Flyers' Couturier next will try to slow Devils' Kovalchuk
Sean Couturier and the Flyers' checkers dispatched one zany and talented Russian in the first round. Now, after a week to catch their collective breath, Couturier and his linemates Max Talbot and Eric Wellwood will have another uber-crafty Russian in Ilya Kovalchuk to exhaustively shadow in this first-to-four Eastern Conference semifinal matchup between the Flyers and Devils.
Sean Couturier and the Flyers' checkers dispatched one zany and talented Russian in the first round.
Now, after a week to catch their collective breath, Couturier and his linemates Max Talbot and Eric Wellwood will have another uber-crafty Russian in Ilya Kovalchuk to exhaustively shadow in this first-to-four Eastern Conference semifinal matchup between the Flyers and Devils.
The fact that Couturier's crew was able to hold Evgeni Malkin, the likely Hart Trophy winner as the league's MVP and a 109-point scorer, to just five points at even strength was probably the key to the series.
The matchup with Kovalchuk, on paper, is decidedly less daunting.
Unlike Malkin, Kovalchuk has never led the league in scoring, even though he is better than a point-per-game player for his career. Unlike Malkin, Kovalchuk has not won a Stanley Cup, and this is the first time in his career that he has advanced past the first round of the playoffs.
Also unlike Malkin, Kovalchuk doesn't get frustrated with physical play - and he's tougher to coerce into undisciplined penalties. Kovalchuk even destroyed Brayden Schenn in a fight on Feb. 4.
"There's going to be a lot of hits and a lot of physical play," Couturier said Saturday. "This team likes that kind of stuff. That's why it was good for us to use this week to recharge the battery and refocus."
Couturier got a chance to go up against Malkin twice in the final week of the season. He tested Kovalchuk twice in March in a home-and-home series. The only difference is that now Kovalchuk will have former 67-point scorer Travis Zajac, who missed most of the season with an Achilles injury, back on his line.
"Their first two lines are really good," Couturier said. "They have a lot of skill, they're fast, they can compete hard. We're going to have to outcompete them."
In 2010, the Flyers held Kovalchuk to two goals in a five-game series win in the first round. It's a good bet that if Couturier can frustrate Kovalchuk half as much as he did Malkin, the Flyers will be in every game.
"I think he's in the zone," Danny Briere said. "He was marvelous in the first round. He got used to that role really quick, coming down the stretch in the regular season. He's been in that mind-set probably for the last month and a half now."
James van Riemsdyk grew up in North Jersey less than 25 miles from Newark's Prudential Center, but he never cheered for the Devils. Instead, the 22-year-old grew up pretending to score on Martin Brodeur in his driveway in a Rangers shirt.
Unlike in the first round, his family and friends will get to see more of van Riemsdyk, who skated just 14 minutes, 17 seconds combined in Games 5 and 6 against Pittsburgh compared with his regular season average of 15:10 per game. He is expected to start the series on a line with Briere and Jake Voracek.