IT WAS DURING the Flyers' three-game California trip 2 weeks ago, Sean Couturier said, when the team's checking line began to uncover some chemistry. The trio started to better find each other on the ice, force more turnovers on the forecheck and create more scoring opportunities.
The line's improved play, the 22-year-old center reasoned, is the most prominent reason for his personal offensive surge of late, three goals and four assists over the last seven games. On a six-game point streak, a mark that ties his career high, he entered this week in the midst of his best scoring stretch of the season.
Couturier, who scored the first goal of the game in both Thursday's 4-1 win against the Devils and Saturday's 5-1 rout of the last-place Hurricanes, the Flyers' first-back-to-back victories in more in a month, appears to be playing with more confidence on the offensive end.
When the Flyers boarded their cross-country flight 15 days ago, their third-line center had just four goals in 23 games and none in the previous 10.
"Personally, I wasn't satisfied with my effort, with my game," he said after Saturday's win, in which his goal came just 53 seconds into the game. "I tried to just come back to the basics and work hard and try to work hard in practice. You finally get rewarded in games and now you've just got to build on that and keep going."
Thursday and Saturday marked the first time Couturier has scored in back-to-back games since early April. He and linemate Matt Read are shooting the puck more, said Wayne Simmonds, who added that left wing R.J. Umberger is effectively creating traffic in front of the net.
Couturier was a big-time scorer in juniors but since breaking into the NHL in 2011 has been better known for his shutdown play on the defensive end. He has not scored more than 13 goals in any of his first three seasons, but his recent hot streak has put him on pace to set career highs in goals and points.
"When you're matched up against the other teams' best players every single night, obviously it takes a toll on you defensively. But 'Couts' has a ton of skill," Simmonds said. "Offensively, he knows how to put the puck in the net. You can tell when he has the puck . . . Even in practice he scores a ton of goals.
"So it's just a matter of time. The more experience you get, the better you become."
Couturier, who has 15 points through 29 games, admitted it sometimes bugs him when he hears himself labeled as merely a "defensive forward" or other descriptions to that affect.
"I feel people maybe just think I'm only a defensive guy, but personally I believe in myself. I know I can produce offensively," he said. "It's just the way that I'm put in situations. I've got to be patient and get my opportunities and capitalize on them when I have them. I want to be known as a solid two-way forward that can help the team offensively as well."
The Flyers (11-13-5) will need Couturier and his line to continue to provide secondary scoring if they hope to dig out of the hole they built themselves in the standings.
Saturday's win moved them into a fifth-place tie with the Devils in the Metropolitan Division but two tougher home games, tomorrow night against the Lightning (19-9-3) and Thursday against the Panthers (12-8-8), await this week before a season-high eight-game road trip.
"As a line, we don't want to be known just as shutdown guys," Couturier said. "We want to help the team offensively as well. At the same time, we've got to be patient in our game and play the right way. We've seemed to find some chemistry finally lately and hopefully it keeps going like that the rest of the year."
With a goal and an assist Saturday, Jake Voracek briefly retook the lead as the NHL's top point-getter with 37. But Dallas' Tyler Seguin came back that night with two points of his own to give him 38 . . . Voracek, Claude Giroux and Sidney Crosby are each tied for the league lead in assists with 26 . . . Flyers defense prospect Robert Hagg will join Team Sweden for the 2015 World Junior Championships, held Dec. 26 to Jan. 5 in Montreal and Toronto. Hagg, who has two goals and eight assists in 24 games with the Phantoms this season, is set to join Sweden on Dec 21.