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Flyers Notes: Couturier proud of defensive game
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OTTAWA -- The problem with scoring 96 points twice in junior hockey is that once you hit the NHL level, people expect you to become an offensive juggernaut as a pro.

So if you’re judging Sean Couturier from that perspective right now as a Flyer, he’s a major disappointment with three assists and nothing more this season.

The flip side of that, however, is that the 20-year-old is still very young and has become a good shutdown defensive centerman for the Flyers.

He’s going to need more time to blossom into a two-way center, more along the lines of a Mike Richards.

“I see him going up,” Flyers coach Craig Berube said. “I don’t think it hangs on him. He’s a young kid. He will eventually become the offensive guy at some point.

“Maybe it hasn’t shown this year, but he’s done way more this year offensively than in the past. If he keeps doing the right things, the puck will go into the net.”

Given the general scoring malaise throughout the team, this is no small issue on the Flyers or even Couturier, who feels he should be doing more on the offensive side of the puck. Yet it almost seems he’s been slotted into a totally defensive role.

“I take pride in my defensive game, shutting down opposing top lines,” Couturier said. “It’s fun. It gives me a lot of minutes, but I don’t want to be seen as only that defensive-minded guy.

“I know I have the offensive tools. We’re creating offense even if we’re playing against top lines. It’s a question of time when we start to bury some goals and it pays off.”

Couturier has been rewarded with more ice time under Berube than he was given under Peter Laviolette: an even two minutes more per game at 18:16 per night.

“I think I’m playing better and deserving of more ice time,” Couturier said. “It depends on nights with matching lines. Some nights the top lines play a lot of minutes and that is when I have to be ready. PK the last two years and starting this year, I’m seeing a little power play. That puts up the ice time.”

Couturier has gotten second unit power-play time this season.

“On the power play part of it, on the back end, he sees the ice well,” Berube said. “He makes good decisions with the puck. That is why he is there.

“I don’t know if it is the reward system, but he has done a good job in his role. When I look at the tape and stuff that goes on, he is getting opportunities out there and he is creating stuff. Can he be better? Sure. And he will get better at it.”

One area he has really improved upon is faceoffs. In October, he was up 11 percent over a year ago and has now dropped back to nine percent at an even 52 percent for the season.

“It’s something I take pride in,” Couturier said. “In junior, I was pretty good at faceoffs. Playing against the best in the world, men who are bigger and stronger, I guess with the age and maturity, as years go by I am going to get bigger and stronger. That is what I have tried to do this summer and it helped me overall.”

The Flyers asked him to put on some weight and muscle over the summer, and you can see it on him.

“They wanted me to come into camp bigger and stronger," Couturier said. "I went back home and worked harder to get stronger. It’s paying off so far.”

He’s about seven to eight pounds heavier at 197-198 this season.

Defensively, the Flyers have been better in recent weeks and Couturier is like the poster boy for that work ethic, especially against top forwards.

“He’s going against a lot of good players every night and does a good job defensively,” Berube said. “But it’s team effort. Everyone is more aware in their own zone. Without the puck, they are doing a better job checking and being responsible.”

Tonight against Ottawa, Couturier is expected to center Steve Downie and Matt Read.

The cage
Downie will be wearing one to protect his left eye. This will be his first game back since missing four after suffering a concussion on Nov. 1 against Washington during a fight with Aaron Volpatti.

He says his sinus issues have cleared.

“I have to wear it a couple weeks, so it is what it is,” said Downie, who had to think about when he last wore such a thing.

“Minor hockey, AAA,” he said. “I haven’t worn one in 10 or 15 years. I’ll get used to it. I’m pretty used to it now. I’ve worn it for a week now.”

Downie has to play since Raffl is out.

“He’s close,” Berube said of Raffl.

Team Canada
The Ottawa media quizzed Claude Giroux on his chances to make Team Canada’s Olympic team given his poor start. Those chances improved slightly with the injury to Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos but …

“Playing on Team Canada is always a dream come true for me to be an Olympian,” Giroux said. “The best way for me to control that is my play on the ice. I can’t be reading stuff. I have to control my game and be my best.

“I’m not happy with the start of my season or our team. But my main focus is the Ottawa Senators tonight. If I start thinking about the big picture, that is when guys get in trouble and you stop playing. Tonight is about winning.”

Loose pucks
Michael Raffl did not skate. He remains out with the flu. … Steve Mason will be in goal against Ottawa. … Berube said he thought Luke Schenn moved the puck and his feet much better last weekend against Edmonton. Schenn will remain in the lineup tonight. “It’s just about making the first pass, moving it, get your feet going,” Berube said. “That’s basically what it was.”