Flyers’ top line too much for Blackhawks
PHILADELPHIA — Through the first five weeks of the season, the Philadelphia Flyers’ top line of Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier has emerged as one of the NHL’s most productive.
Giroux and Voracek each recorded a goal and two assists, and Couturier picked up his team-high 10th goal Thursday night, leading the Flyers to a 3-1 win over the struggling Chicago Blackhawks.
Chicago lost for the fifth time in seven games.
“When you get a chance to play against one of the top lines in the league, you get excited about it, and Coach told us we were going to play most of the game against them,” Giroux said about coach Dave Hakstol assigning his first line to face the Blackhawks’ newly constructed top line of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp.
Couturier said, “They’re top guys in the league, and every game you want to outscore and outcompete the other top line. As a line, we’re pretty confident we can do that.”
Toews, Kane and Sharp were held pointless and finished a combined minus-5 for the Blackhawks (7-7-2). Defenseman Connor Murphy, whose father, Gord Murphy, is an assistant coach with Philadelphia, scored the only goal for the Blackhawks, who have netted just seven even-strength goals in their past seven games.
“If you choose to let it get to you then you’re going to spend a lot more time going through this,” said Toews, who has four goals and six assists in 16 games. “If you want to call it a negative feeling or a negative phase of the season, we’ve just got to try to create that positive feeling in our locker room and just go out there and play loose and say, ‘Hey, if we’ve hit rock bottom, it can’t get any worse.’”
Brian Elliott (6-3-1) turned aside 38 shots to earn the win for Philadelphia (8-6-2). Corey Crawford (7-6-0) made 28 stops in the loss.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville tried to ignite that offense by reuniting Kane, Toews and Sharp on the top line, but he separated them after the Flyers grabbed a 2-0 lead in the opening period.
Giroux (nine goals, 20 points), Voracek (four goals, 20 points) and Couturier (10 goals, 19 points) all rank among the NHL’s top 15 in points.
Giroux entered the game with 16 points in 13 career games against the Blackhawks and padded those totals with a dominant three-point performance.
Last season, he battled through hip issues and finished with 44 points, his lowest full-season total since his rookie season.
“He was a Hart Trophy nominee (in 2014),” Voracek said. “It wasn’t about confidence; it was about his health. Now he’s healthy and he has a little more room on that left wing than he did at center. We’re more free to make a play with (Couturier) as our safety valve.”
Giroux opened the scoring 4:58 into the game when he one-timed a pass from Voracek past Crawford for his ninth goal of the season.
Voracek made it 2-0 just 7:10 later when he swatted Giroux’s cross-ice pass past Crawford from the right circle.
Couturier increased the lead to 3-0 with his team-high 10th goal on a nice backhand feed from Giroux 3:51 into the second period, but Murphy drew the Hawks within 3-1 with 3:47 remaining in the middle period.
The Flyers killed off a crucial two-man advantage for the Blackhawks in the closing minutes of the second period to carry the two-goal lead into the third.
“There’s still lots of hockey to be played,” said Blackhawks left winger Brandon Saad, who was stopped on two excellent scoring chances and has gone 10 games without a goal. “Even though we lose a couple, our division is still pretty tight. There’s still a lot of points to be had.”
NOTES: The Blackhawks’ power play went 0-for-4 and has scored just twice in its past 29 attempts. ... Shayne Gostisbehere became the fastest defenseman in team history to score his first 100 NHL points as a Flyer (155 games). ... The Blackhawks have lost 14 consecutive regular-season games in Philadelphia. However, their last win at the Wells Fargo Center clinched the Stanley Cup in Game 6 in 2010. ... The Blackhawks finish their two-game road trip Saturday against the Carolina Hurricanes, then return home for games against the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers ... The Flyers conclude their three-game homestand Saturday night against the Minnesota Wild, then hit the road for games in Minnesota and Winnipeg.