After shutting down Malkin, Flyers’ Couturier now stifling Kovalchuk

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In the Flyers’ opening playoff round against Pittsburgh, rookie center Sean Couturier drew the assignment of shutting down Evgeni Malkin, the NHL’s leading scorer.

The end result? Malkin was held scoreless in two of the six games and seemed aggravated throughout, taking a series of dumb retaliatory penalties (including this one on Couturier.)

So there was little surprise that, in Game 1 of the Devils series, Couturier drew another big-time assignment in Ilya Kovalchuk, New Jersey’s leading scorer. The 19-year-old silenced Kovalchuk (who went without a shot on goal) and later explained the difference in assignments to Wayne Fish of PhillyBurbs.com.

“It’s different guys, different styles a little bit,” Couturier said. “Kovalchuk is more of a shooter and Malkin controls the puck and likes to make plays.

“I try to play the same on every game, work hard on them, play hard on them, play whistle to whistle, play good defense and when we get a chance to play offense, create something.”

If the opening contest was any indication, Kovalchuk and linemates Zach Parise and Travis Zajac will be seeing plenty more of the Couturier-Max Talbot-Eric Wellwood trio. The line was fantastic in its customary shutdown role, drawing praise from Flyers forward Daniel Briere, who scored the winner in overtime.

“It’s pretty amazing, we’re talking about somebody who is 19-years-old that way,” Briere said of Couturier. “His line was amazing again last night. When he was matched up against Kovalchuk or [Patrik] Elias. . .to be realistic, we know we’re not going to keep a guy in check every single game.

“You try your best and take advantage when you keep him off the scoreboard.”

Last week, we wrote about rookies shining in their playoff debuts but (admittedly) didn’t do Couturier enough justice. His stat line is incredible — he leads all playoff rooks in goals, shots, takeaways and faceoff percentage; he’s also second in points, fourth in shorthanded ice time and fifth in hits.

All that while shadowing Malkin and Kovalchuk? Pretty impressive stuff.