PHILADELPHIA – At the season’s halfway point, it’s too bad for the Flyers their bye week is coming up.
They’re just starting to return to the form which won them six straight games last month.
The Flyers’ 6-3 win over the St. Louis Blues on Saturday afternoon marked the first time they’ve won back-to-back games since Dec. 16, when they completed the aforementioned six-gamer.
Problem is, after a home game against Buffalo on Sunday afternoon, the Flyers don’t play again until next Saturday.
While the break will be a welcome respite from the grind of an 82-game schedule, the Flyers will tell you they probably would like to keep right on going.
Fast starts, balanced scoring, strong two-way play. . .when the Flyers put all these elements together, good things happen.
“We get everyone going early in the game, guys are ready, guys come out strong, we establish our game; obviously it helps to get a good start and you go from there,’’ said Sean Couturier, who scored two goals to give him 40 points on the season, a career high.
Goals by Scott Laughton and Claude Giroux got the Flyers off to a fast start in the first period and Jordan Weal and Couturier scored in the second to give the Flyers a 4-0 lead.
The Blues picked up a goal from Ivan Barbrashev late in the second and another from Paul Stastny early in the third but Brian Elliott, making his 16th consecutive start in goal for the Flyers, allowed only one more the rest of the way to preserve the win.
With the victory, the Flyers finally escape the Metro Division basement, sending the New York Islanders into that location.
The Laughton goal was set up by a big hit from rookie Tyrell Goulbourne, who was just called up from the Phantoms on Thursday and made his NHL debut. Goulbourne freight-trained Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, opening the door for Laughton’s clear shot.
“That (hit) was great,’’ said Weal, who has suddenly found the offensive side of his game. “That’s what we need from a guy like that. He’s a physical presence, running around, throwing his weight, creating havoc. It just gets the whole bench going.’’
Couturier’s goal at 11:45 of the second period and empty netter with 15 seconds to play give him 40 points for the season, setting his career high in exactly the season’s first half (41 games).
Laughton started things off by stealing a puck in the Blues’ end and rocketing a shot from the left dot short side past goalie Jake Allen at 2:15.
Goulbourne set the whole thing up.
“It (Goulbourne) is definitely an asset for him (Laughton),’’ Elliott said. “He’s a big boy. You see him coming, you kind of get out of the way. I don’t know what happened on the first shift but the boys are saying it was a good one.’’
“It was a good start for our line,’’ he said. “I thought he (Goulbourne) did a good job in the minutes he played.’’
Said Goulbourne: “The first shift, I just wanted to get a hit in there. I just wanted to finish my check. ‘Laughts’ made a great shot there. I didn’t even see it go in so I think I celebrated two seconds late. I’ve always been an energy-type player. Gets the guys going on the bench. That’s what I’ve always wanted to do.’’
Goulbourne said this day was a long time coming.
How long has he been dreaming about it?
“Since I was five years old,’’ he said. “I mean it is amazing I can’t really explain how it felt, I was scared before the game, my legs were shaking, but it felt really good after that first shift.
Giroux made it 2-0 at 6:42. Breaking in two-on-one against a sliding Colton Parayko, Giroux tried to pass to Couturier but the puck deflected off Parayko’s backside into the St. Louis net.
Weal scored on a semi-break at 8:32 of the second and then Couturier finished a nice feed from Giroux.
The Blues rallied, but Wayne Simmonds’ power-play goal at 11:18 of the third gave the Flyers some breathing room.
The Flyers find themselves only a few points out of a playoff spot. Coach Dave Hakstol said he hasn’t had time to fully review the team’s first half but obviously this recent turnaround has put things in a more positive light.
“I know we’re probably at a point where we’re four to six points behind a playoff spot,’’ he said. “That’s a lot of points to make up so we have work to do.’’