When a superstar like Connor McDavid hits town, the defense plan calls for all hands on deck and that might even include the injured Sean Couturier.
McDavid took to the ice on Thursday night with his Edmonton team on an 8-0-1 run and the talented center leading the NHL in scoring.
The Flyers knew they would have their hands full. So what do they do? Put a rookie pivot by the name of Noah Cates out against him.
On paper, that might look like a mismatch. But on one particular piece of paper, the final scoresheet, the numbers told a different story.
McDavid was held to a single assist and just five shots in nearly 24 minutes of action.
After Friday morning’s practice at the Skate Zone in Voorhees, N.J., Cates said he’s been receiving tips on faceoffs and other aspects of the game from Couturier, who’s been sidelined all season after undergoing his second back surgery of 2022.
Having Couturier, a former Selke Trophy (best NHL defensive forward) winner, in your corner is almost like having another coach standing around.
“Off the ice he’s given me some tips about what he likes to do,” Cates said. “Different things that he does to kind of turn it around for himself.
“He’s around most days. I try to talk to him, like when we’re on the road. I think it’s a little different when you’re on the ice. You’re competing with him. I can’t wait for that day. Watch and learn from him.”
The Flyers hope to have Couturier back in action sometime in March, although the timeline seems to be a fluid situation. The Flyers apparently want to be cautious with his health and don’t want to risk a second re-injury.
It took Couturier a number of years to make the transition from a defense-first forward into a good two-way player. Ultimately, Cates sounds like he wants to follow a similar career path, albeit a little quicker into the offensive side of the game.
“He’s definitely a guy I would like to evolve into,’’ Cates said. “He’s pretty special. That would be huge to add a guy like that (for the stretch run) and for me to watch and learn from.
“Again, it’s really nice to learn from him off the ice but I think when he gets on the ice it will be a huge boost for our team and for myself personally.”
One area Cates would like to improve is his efforts on the aforementioned faceoffs. Against the Oilers, he won just two out of 12 draws.
“It kind of seems like hit or miss,” Cates said. “Need to be more consistent with it. I just have to be a little more diligent with it. Kind of change my game plan if I’m not winning.”
Couturier has been helpful in this aspect of the game as well.
“Especially if you’re going up against the same guy,’’ Cates remarked. “Definitely a lot goes into it. I’m still learning. Couturier has helped me.”
A couple years back, Couturier and Claude Giroux were so good at faceoffs they made the Flyers top five in the NHL in that statistic.
So why not learn from the best?
“He’s always at the games,’’ Cates said. “He’s talked a lot about faceoffs with me. Some guys think I play like him. It’s a huge honor.”
>Best game of year?
Coach John Tortorella had praise for his team on Friday, pointing to some specifics of the 2-1 shootout win over the Oilers.
“It was against a really good team,’’ Tortorella said. “A well coached team – obviously the star power they have. The thing I liked about our team, it’s the most we’ve talked about another team; the thing I was worried about did we spook our team?
“The most gratifying thing for me was I saw our team play with patience, respect of the opponent, but we were also on our toes. That’s a difficult thing to do sometimes.”
The Flyers announced on Friday they have placed forward Kieffer Bellows on waivers.