DENVER - One of the key factors in the Flyers' winning streak - which was at nine games entering Wednesday night's matchup in Denver - has been the play of the team's checking line, centered by Pierre-Edouard Bellemare.
Since Sean Couturier suffered a knee injury Nov. 22, Bellemare has become the shutdown center. Playing against opponents' top lines, he and his linemates have played admirably.
The Flyers were 9-2 since Bellemare replaced Couturier as the Flyers' top defensive center. More times than not, they have shut down opponents' big guns.
"Your confidence builds up, and that's where we are now," Bellemare said before Wednesday's game in Colorado. "We know we're going to get some of the big names, and we're ready for it."
Bellemare said his checking unit - lately, he has been with wingers Chris VandeVelde and rookie Roman Lyubimov - has tried to spend as much time as possible in the offensive end.
"We're trying to be really strong on our breakouts," said the 31-year-old native of France. "I tell them, 'I take care of the 'D,' you take care of the 'O' zone.' So we know who's doing what, and I come back and help the 'D' as much as possible, so we can get out of our zone as good as possible."
Bellemare said his line "isn't going to score 70 goals a year, but the fact we have a role on the team helps us build the confidence playing offensively, too. When you do the right thing defensively, it builds the confidence ... and that can lead to offense and tire the [opponents'] big lines. Those big lines get frustrated. They don't want to play defense. They're used to just going in on a rush."
During Wednesday's morning practice, Couturier and Matt Read skated with the team for the first time since their injuries.
Couturier, who will probably wear a knee brace the rest of the season, hopes to return at some point during a road trip that starts Dec. 28 in St. Louis.
"It's feeling pretty good and getting better every day," Couturier said. ". . . The biggest challenge, I'd say, is maybe getting used to the brace. It's different skating with it, but I'm feeling pretty good."
Read, sidelined by an upper-body injury, said there was no timetable for his return. He said he was making progress, though it was difficult for him to catch his breath Wednesday.
"It's Colorado and my lungs aren't there, but besides that, I'm fine," Read said. "Feeling better."
He said he was "doing as much as I can until I feel 100 percent."
Read said it was "tough to sit out, but at the same time, the team's playing good. A nine-game winning streak hasn't happened in a while and it's fun to watch. I want to get back in the lineup as soon as I can and help the team, but as long as they're winning you don't have to rush back like if it was a nine-game losing streak."