Friday, December 06, 2013

November Spawned a Monster

by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor

In both Greek and Roman mythology, there was a three-headed beast which guarded the gates of Hell, a creature so fierce and unforgiving that no one who ever thought of escaping ever could, at the risk of being savaged.

It was called Cerberus, companion to Hades/Pluto and held such a feared reputation in the worlds both under and over, that Hercules himself saved the last of his 12 labors to take on the razor-toothed, fire-swathed menace.

In Philadelphia, we've got one three-headed beast much kinder and gentler, but no less awful to behold thanks to their respective attempts at a Movember 'stache: Matt Read, Sean Couturier and Steve Downie.

The coming out party for what's informally called the CD-R Line occurred in Wednesday's surprising 6-3 win over the Red Wings in Detroit.

"They bring a little bit of everything," said Flyers head coach Craig Berube to the Daily News. "There's a big centerman who plays his role well, they've got some speed with 'Reader' and then Downie is strong on the puck on the walls and around the net.

Couturier tied a career high with four points (2G, 2A), Read totaled three (1G, 2A) and Downie picked up his first goal with the Flyers along with an assist as the visitors erased a two-goal deficit with a five-goal rally which included four unanswered goals in the third period alone.

That brings the total of the most solid line on the club in the last three weeks to 25 points in 10 games -- three more than the top line which includes captain Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek -- along with a plus-21 rating. In addition, Couturier's faceoff percentage has broken above even, now at 50.4 percent thanks to going 11-for-21 at Joe Louis Arena.

“Things are clicking for us,” Read said after the game. “We’re just trying to outwork the other line. Just play smart and get pucks deep. Things went our way tonight. Sean made a couple of good plays out there and is looking more confident every game. "It comes back to playing simple, smart hockey. We want to be a plus line at the end of the night. If we are, it gives us a chance to win games.”

The monster here is not the line's success. Any time a third unit is pouring in points at such a pace is a blessing and should further buttress the production of the lines which get the majority of playing time in all situations. It's in the fact that these three brave souls have been carrying the Flyers out of their October doldrums, but as a bottom-six grouping, can't be relied on in the long term to be the best line on a game-to-game basis.

Imagine if the Sutter-Sutter-Tocchet line, or Klatt-Otto-Podein, or Radivojevic-Somik-Kapanen had been called upon to keep the Orange and Black afloat when Tim Kerr, the Legion of Doom or whoever Ken Hitchcock promoted to first-line status faltered. It happened one game out of every 10, but not for long stretches of the schedule.

It's no coincidence, and there's no question there's a direct correlation between the Flyers' 9-3-1 record since Nov. 9 and the point production for Coots, Reader, and Non-Actual Hockey Player.

When that well dries up, as it has a tendency to do in this reduced-offense era league-wide, there's no guarantee that Giroux, who has still managed to struggle mightily this year in spite of a recent profusion of points, can pick up half of that 2.5 points-per contest slack himself as a star player is supposed to. And that's with or without the unpredictable appearances and absences of Vinny Lecavalier.

While it's nice to hear Voracek praise his teammates as he did before Thanksgiving, if he could do so with more than 12 points in 28 games and none over his last six, it would force the rest of the Metropolitan Division to take notice. Heading into ice-bound Dallas, the furnaces need to be stoked from the usual places at a quicker pace.

That lack of balance, like a goal post sagging in one direction due to an end-zone celebration gone wrong, will adversely affect the Flyers in the long run. You wouldn't let Cerberus run Hell with the chief god in charge absent because the natural order gets out of whack.  With Downie on the line, the bark will never disappear, though the bite probably will and bring out all the trade-value talk for Couturier and Read who are defensive specialists with offensive flair. 

It's yet another reason this year's team defies analysis and prediction, and should be appreciated for their labors and the merits which result, whenever they occur. 

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