Sean Couturier

Will Flyers promising young forwards break out this season?

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It’s interesting to note that while Philadelphia Flyers forwards Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek took major steps forward last season to become team leaders, they weren’t the centerpieces of their respective trades in the summer of 2011.

Although Simmonds was an important part of his transaction, the seemingly big addition when the Philadelphia Flyers shipped Mike Richards to Los Angeles was top prospect Brayden Schenn. Similarly, Columbus sacrificed the eighth overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, along with Voracek, to get Jeff Carter. The Flyers used that pick to draft Sean Couturier.

While the more established players that Philadelphia got back have worked out nicely, the jury is still out on Couturier and Schenn. Both are promising and have the potential to turn the Flyers’ already strong offense into arguably the best in the NHL. At the same time, their first two campaigns with the Flyers have been a mixed bag.

Brayden Schenn, after being united older brother Luke Schenn, did show signs of improvement in 2013. The younger Schenn scored eight goals and 26 points in 47 games and might have been able to do even better with more playing time. As it is, he averaged a moderate 15:32 minutes per contest.

He’s a candidate to play a bigger role this season as a top-six forward. With 110 NHL games now under his belt and at the age of 22, this figures to be an important campaign for him.

Couturier is a bigger question mark after struggling last season with just four goals and 15 points in 46 contests. He was also minus-eight after being plus-18 in his 2011-12 rookie campaign.

“I think that a lot of times there’s always that expectation when players come in that first year and they’re contributing a certain way, there’ll be that jump to new heights in the second year, but it doesn’t always work that way,” Flyers coach Peter Laviolette told NHL.com. “Sean still played good games and played well defensively.”

Certainly, Couturier isn’t the first player to suffer from a sophomore slump and it similarly wouldn’t be shocking to see him bounce back in his third NHL season.

The other major young X-factor among Philadelphia’s group of forwards is Scott Laughton. He enjoyed a five-game stint with the Flyers in 2013 before he was returned to the OHL Oshawa Generals.

Laughton had his best season with the Generals to date, recording 56 points and 72 penalty minutes in 49 contests. The 19-year-old impressed Flyers director of player development Ian Laperriere with his attitude following the demotion, according to NHL.com.

The 19-year-old forward is going into this season with a chance of making the team and although he’s certainly not as big a breakout candidate in 2013-14 as Couturier and Schenn, all three have the potential to be important pieces with the Flyers for years to come.

Latest way the Wild lost? Killed by penalty kill

Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk sits on the ice after giving up a goal to St. Louis Blues' Jori Lehtera, of Finland, during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
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It’s said that variety is the spice of life, yet it seems to be the spite of the Minnesota Wild.

As head coach Mike Yeo said, this struggling team appears to find a new way to lose virtually every night. That couldn’t have happened once again on Saturday, when they fell 4-1 to the St. Louis Blues, could it?

Actually …

If you ask Jarret Stoll, the latest problem was the penalty kill.

Honestly, Stoll may have been too specific, likely trying to throw his own unit under the bus. Instead, it might be more accurate to say that Minnesota’s special teams let them down.

Indeed, the Wild struggled to limit the Blues’ power play, which went an unsettling 3-for-6. That said, Minnesota had a chance to trade blows with St. Louis. Instead, the Wild managed one power-play goal on seven opportunities.

The silver lining is that the Wild believe that they showed more fight than this fragile bunch had been generating before.

On the other hand, with Jonas Brodin on IR and Jared Spurgeon apparently hurt, that silver lining may not be so easy to see.

Statement in Blackhawks’ blowout of Stars? Coach Q says they’re even

Chicago Blackhawks center Artem Anisimov (15) scores a goal against Dallas Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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Worry (if you’re pulling for the Stars) or gloat (if you’re a Blackhawks fan) all you want, but the bottom line is that the Central Division’s No.1 spot is clearly in Chicago’s control after Saturday night.

The Blackhawks earned a decisive 5-1 win against the Dallas Stars, giving them a five-point standings lead over Dallas for the Central Division lead.

You may feel like that’s more of the same, but consider this: things would look a lot closer if Dallas won or gained points, as they hold three games in hand on the ‘Hawks.

At least one Blackhawks player admits this game means a little more than your average W.

Indeed, while Antti Niemi was pulled from the game and Kari Lehtonen faced his own struggles in Dallas’ net, Corey Crawford ranked as one of the big reasons why the score was so lopsided.

(Artem Anisimov had a big say in that, too.)

As a wise coach with 1,000+ games of experience would do, Joel Quenneville didn’t go overboard in assessing the victory.

Was this a statement game? Who knows, but a certain statement is that the Blackhawks now have a five-point standings lead.

Brad Marchand wins it … on a penalty shot … in overtime

Boston Bruins' Brad Marchand celebrates after scoring on a penalty shot during the overtime period of the Boston Bruins 2-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres in an NHL hockey game in Boston Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
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Looking at the standings, beating the Buffalo Sabres was pretty important for the Boston Bruins. The Atlantic Division’s run for spots appears particularly congested out East.

Of all the Bruins to get a chance to win it all, the team might have wanted Brad Marchand to have that opportunity. He’s on pace to destroy his previous career-highs for scoring, and Marchand’s been particularly hot lately.

Either way, Marchand came up big indeed, scoring the rare overtime game-winner on a penalty shot. Check out the drama below:

That can be a big extra point and ROW (regulation/overtime win) when the regular season is finished.

Note: Many believe that Marchand should not have received a penalty shot on the play.

Crosby kills the Cats: Penguins end Panthers’ winning streak

Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87) collides with Florida Panthers' Connor Brickley (86) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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For quite some time, it looked like the Florida Panthers would keep the Pittsburgh Penguins under wraps.

Florida nursed a 1-0 lead into a 2-0 margin almost halfway through the third period, looking to win its sixth consecutive game. That looked great … and then Sidney Crosby + Kris Letang happened.

Let’s put it this way: this GIF of Crosby being frustrated is amusing, yet it doesn’t exactly tell the story of Saturday’s 3-2 overtime win for the Penguins:

Instead, Crosby grabbed his 900th point assisting on a Letang goal, and finished the night with 902 by collecting the game-tying goal and grabbing a helper on Letang’s overtime game-winner.

Crosby crossing that barrier is indeed special, even if it prompts “What if?” questions about No. 87’s health.

The resurgence of Crosby and Letang already played a big role in the Penguins going from disjointed and frustrating to sneaky and scary, so it  shouldn’t be that surprising to see them play so well. Doing so in such brisk order is a little bewildering, however.