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Grotz: John Tortorella might not be winning fans by benching Sean Couturier, but Flyers are winning games

PHILADELPHIA — There are two kinds of hockey players … Those who dislike John Tortorella and those who dislike Tortorella.

Unlike fan favorite Sean Couturier, the Flyers coach can go off in the blink of an eye. Tortorella deserved a three-game suspension for refusing to leave the bench area after being ejected earlier this month. What kind of example is that kind of behavior?

Tortorella has had flareups at news conferences that have made reporters uneasy. Tired of questions about his captain Couturier, whom he benched in back-to-back games, Tortorella sent assistant coaches to his press availabilities this week.

With Couturier back in the lineup Saturday and the Flyers playing a big third period to register a 3-2 win over the Boston Bruins, who had beaten them in seven straight games and were leading the league in points, Tortorella spoke for himself. He said “Coots played well,” but let’s be honest, the vet barely played 13 minutes.

“The thing I take out of the game is it’s two games in a row now that our third period has been our strongest period,” Tortorella said. “I thought we took over the game in Carolina (Thursday). We gave up a couple goals in this third period, but I thought it was a really good period by the whole group.”

For Flyers fans, tolerating Tortorella can be difficult because they must weigh the results against his methodology. How could he bench Couturier, who he made captain, under the pretense that it gives the Flyers a better chance to win?

Saturday, Couturier was quiet in the first period, doing little to show up on the stat sheet in five shifts covering 4:17 of ice time. He registered 13:09 on ice, a shot on goal, two hits and was 4-4 on faceoffs.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Couturier said of the benching. “I just want to help the team in any way I can. This (win) is huge. It’s big for our confidence. I think we can start believing in ourselves, that we’re one of those teams.”

Truth be told, it’s early but Couturier may not suit the way this new age Flyers team plays. The nucleus of Owen Tippett, Tyson Foerster, Travis Konecny, Morgan Frost and Ryan Poehling handled most of the offense Saturday. They are the future. When one takes a big check or cheap shot, the others avenge it. It’s a fascinating moment in Flyers history dating to the era where Bobby Clarke, Bill Barber and Jimmy Watson drank from a couple of Stanley Cups.

Couturier hadn’t played hockey in almost two years before this season thanks to injuries, but he gave the Flyers minutes while the nucleus got to know each other this season. Honestly, he looks far from the $7.75 million wage earner he is.

You’d have to go back to the late Buddy Ryan, the revered yet irreverent head coach of the Eagles who enjoyed trashing underperforming football players, to find a Philly coach with an ego like Tortorella.

Veteran forward Kevin Hayes got the message last year, the Flyers picking up a chunk of his guaranteed salary to ship him to St. Louis. He wasn’t hurt, but his ego was. We won’t bore you with Tortorella’s hit list over the years except to say it included then up-and-coming Tampa Bay star Vincent Lecavalier. During the 2005-06 season Tortorella reportedly verbally brutalized him in front of the team at a film session for exchanging pleasantries with an opponent who had scored on the Lightning.

Tortorella might be 5-foot-8 on skates while Lecavalier checked in at 6-4, 215. Lecavalier didn’t appreciate the critique but guess what? He led the league and the Lightning with 52 goals the following season.

Good guy that Couturier is, the Flyers are 4-1-1 this season without him. That includes wins over Carolina, which had 44 wins entering Saturday, the 39-victory Toronto Maple Leafs and St. Louis, which has 38 wins.

Minus Couturier, the Flyers played faster against Carolina and Toronto. And for the most part, Boston. Their third period Saturday was stunning in that they out-ran some fairly big mistakes.

The game was scoreless until Konecny jammed a rebound past Bruins goalie Linus Ullmark, who was playing like the Vezina favorite. The Flyers made a mistake in the third period that allowed Boston’s Justin Brazeau to tie the contest. Konecny made it tied the game at two with his 30th goal of the season with 4:44 left but Danton Heinen knotted the game less than a minute later.

With 1:29 left, a blistering wrister by rookie Foerster, his 18th goal of the season, gave the Flyers the win. The Wells Fargo Center rocked like the Spectrum when the fans counted down the seconds to victory in the those Stanley Cup days.

Before the game Flyers general manager Danny Biere addressed the Couturier situation on Snow the Goalie, a team podcast. Briere applauded Couturier’s gutsy effort this season and said the veteran would likely be a Flyer forever.

“He’s done a lot of good things,” Briere said. “And he’s going to do more good things for us.”

For Couturier that means being there for a group of younger players who have found their groove, and for Tortorella.

Tortorella’s formula is working. Only a total collapse could keep the Flyers from reaching the playoffs for the first time in four years.

To contact Bob Grotz email

Source: Berkshire mont

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