PHILADELPHIA – One thing the Flyers have stressed this season is keeping the puck out of their own net. They gave a pretty good example of that intention by shutting down one of the NHL’s improving offenses on Tuesday night, blanking the Vancouver Canucks.
Meanwhile, a day of rest apparently had the desired effect for Sean Couturier.
One day after skipping Monday’s practice for “maintenance,” Couturier scored on a rare penalty shot in the first period and team defense did the rest, leading the Flyers to a 2-0 win over Vancouver in Philadelphia’s season-opener at the Wells Fargo Center.
It was the first career penalty shot attempt for Couturier.
Goaltender Carter Hart enjoyed another strong performance as the Flyers raised their season record to 2-1. An apparent goal by Conor Garland at 2:36 of the third period was disallowed because two Vancouver players were in the crease, creating goaltender interference.
Rookie defenseman Egor Zamula chipped in with his first NHL goal just 1:45 into the game.
Couturier was slashed by Vancouver’s Noah Juulsen at 17:23 of the first period as the Flyer was making a move toward the net.
On the penalty shot, Couturier tried something new. He switched over and skated backward toward goaltender Thatcher Demko, then moved back to his forehand and lifted the puck into the net.
Couturier, who missed the past season and a half due to a pair of back surgeries, said he borrowed the move from Hall of Famer Martin St. Louis, the former Tampa Bay great who now coaches the Montreal Canadiens.
“The last two years, yeah, I’ve had too much time to think about it and work on it,” Couturier said. “Coming into the game, I focused on the details of playing the game the right way. The chances will come, the points will come, just have to stick to it.
“I wasn’t sure if it was a penalty shot. I think it was a key moment in the game. We were up, 1-0, we were starting to gain momentum. You needed to score at some point to get that killer instinct.”
Earlier in the day, Couturier revealed he wanted to play in this game even though he took off from practice the day before. He was itching to play in front of the Philly fans again.
“Yeah, it felt great. . .best fans in the league, especially when you’re winning,” he said. “A lot of fun.”
Coach John Tortorella had little to criticize in this game.
“When you score goals, you help in a lot of different areas,” the coach said of Couturier’s performance. “He’s been solid defensively. Hopefully that (goal) will help the offensive side of his game.”
If Couturier can keep his all-around game at a high level, it will improve the Flyers’ chances of winning games.
“He’s just so well-positioned,” Tortorella said. “Sometimes I look at him and I’m not sure if he’s moving or not. But he knows exactly what he’s doing as far as his positioning. Doesn’t say much on the bench. I’ve asked him to be selfish. I’m not sure if he opens up on the bench but everybody trusts him. He adds a presence to our team.”
On Zamula’s goal, the defenseman fired a shot through a screen caused by a Vancouver defender.
It was a big moment in the young D-man’s short career.
“It felt great, a dream come true,” he said. “Unbelievable. The coach said shoot the puck more so I try to shoot and it was a good shot by me. I worked all summer on my offense at the blue line. I like working the blue line – I think I’m skilled enough to do that.”
Last year, Zamula started the season with the Flyers but couldn’t stick. This time it looks like he’s going to make it. What’s different?
“I learned a lot,” he explained. “For me, when I got sent down. (Artem) Anisimov (on the Phantoms) helped me a lot. He said never give up. I worked my butt off in the summer. This year, for sure, I have more confidence.”
The Flyers completely dominated the Canucks in the second period, outshooting the visitors by a whopping 23-2 margin and maintaining a 2-0 edge.
“The second period was probably the best one we’ve played this year. Just how fast we played,” Tortorella said. “I think we developed 15 or 16 scoring chances and their goaltending was tremendous (to not allow any goals). I just liked the way we moved the puck.”
The home squad continued to apply pressure on the net of the Canucks, who came to town sporting a 2-0 record, including an 8-1 rout of Edmonton on the Oilers’ home rink.
The Flyers improved their record in home openers to 32-17-7.
On the Garland play, the Flyers challenged and the goal was quickly disallowed. Tortorella gave credit to his video department for coming up with the legitimate protest. “I thought the refs made the right call,” Tortorella said.
Second-line Morgan Frost was a surprise scratch. Tortorella said it’s just a case of others “playing better.” Said Tortorella: “Not too much science as far as my thinking for the lineup. I’ll talk to him tomorrow because we didn’t skate today.”
The Flyers will practice at 12 noon at the Flyers Training Center on Wednesday, then host the Oilers on Thursday night. . .The Flyers’ power play, which finished 32nd in the NHL last season, is off to a one-for-13 start this year.