Top line keeps rolling as Flyers top Chicago, 3-1

PHILADELPHIA – It must have taken more than a little fortitude for coach Dave Hakstol to move Claude Giroux away from center after some 656 NHL games.

But that he did, sliding Sean Couturier into Giroux’s familiar pivot spot during training camp.

There were skeptics.

There aren’t anymore.

Giroux, Couturier and first line teammate Jake Voracek continued their season-long scoring rampage on Thursday night, leading the Flyers to a 3-1 win over the visiting Chicago Blackhawks at the Wells Fargo Center.

Each player scored a goal and the line finished with seven points, giving it 60 points for the season.

Any questions about line chemistry have been pretty much answered.

Hakstol insists he really didn’t know how the line would work out when he constructed it back in September.

“Three good players working hard together,’’ Hakstol said after the Flyers beat the Blackhawks for a 14th consecutive time on home ice dating back to Nov. 9, 1996. “They’ve worked hard from day one together. They compete in both directions.’’

The Flyers entered the preseason overstocked at center, with Giroux, Couturier, No. 2 overall draft pick Nolan Patrick, Valtteri Filppula, Jori Lehtera and Scott Laughton all in the mix.

Since Giroux wasn’t going to be moved off the first line, he graciously accepted a position on the wing. So far, it’s worked out. He has nine goals and 11 assists.

“I didn’t have expectations (for the line),’’ Hakstol maintained. “We all felt like they could be a good line together. I think that’s what they’re showing. They continue to work at getting better as a line.’’
Giroux seems to be well on his way to a big comeback year after stumbling through his lowest offensive production in six years following hernia surgery in the 2016 offseason.

“When you play with the same guys for a good amount of games, you get comfortable,’’ he explained.
Added Couturier: “It (line chemistry) is starting to feel a little more natural finding each other out there. We’re knowing where we’re going to be or what the other guy is thinking.’’

A perfect example was the Flyers’ third goal at 3:51 of the second period. Voracek carried the puck into the zone, found Giroux cutting down the left side and watched as Giroux laced a perfect backhand pass onto Couturier’s stick for an easy dunk shot on goalie Corey Crawford.

“It’s getting better and better,’’ Couturier said. “I think all three goals were nice plays.’’

Giroux kicked off the scoring at 4:58 of the first on a nice setup by Voracek. Then Voracek scored off an assist from Shayne Gostisbehere at 12:08.

A big turning point in the game came late in the second when the Flyers had to kill off a five-on-three for 1:44.

Clearly, though, the game hinged on Couturier’s line outplaying Chicago’s top unit of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and ex-Flyer Patrick Sharp.

“We knew if we played our game we would be fine,’’ Voracek said. “I played with Couturier for about 40 games last year and I played with ‘G’ (Giroux) for a long time. We understand each other, we fill up the lanes. . .we try to keep the puck in the offensive zone. Get a cycle going, that’s why we’re playing the way we do.’’

Brian Elliott picked up the win in goal for the Flyers. Only one shot, by defenseman Connor Murphy, eluded him out of 39.
“I felt good out there,’’ Elliott said as the Flyers raised their record to 8-6-2. “I thought we did a good job defensively. We took away lanes, took away passes. That’s what you have to do against a team like that, that likes to move it around.’’

Gostisbehere sets record

Gostisbehere’s assist was his 100th point in his 155th NHL game, making him the fastest D-man to 100 in team history. Behn Wilson held the old mark (163).

“It’s an honor,’’ ‘Ghost’ said. “It’s huge. It’s a nice group effort.’’

Voracek likes what he sees.

“He’s a good player, very talented,’’ Voracek said. “He’s a huge plus for us.’’

Short shots

Flyers won 49 of 73 faceoffs. . .Robert Hagg record five hits. His 53 hits lead all NHL rookies. . .Ivan Provorov played just 21:19 after averaging 28:03 previous five games.

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About Wayne Fish 2418 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.

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