The majority of people, whether it be fans, players or otherwise in Wells Fargo Center earlier today were sporting huge smiles as the Flyers thumped their Keystone State rivals from Pittsburgh for the second straight game. Philadelphia's second eight-goal outburst in as many games chased Marc-Andre Fleury from the Penguins' net all while pushing them to the brink of elimination.
But nobody's grin was wider than Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren. Holmgren, who came under fire in the offseason for trading his pair of disgruntled stars, including team captain Mike Richards, for a slew of young assets, has been looking smarter and smarter every day lately thanks to the play of some of Philadelphia's top young guns.
Sure, the Flyers 3-0 series lead has had plenty to do with outstanding performances from all-world talents like Claude Giroux, Jaromir Jagr and Danny Briere. This is not a team devoid of big names by any means.
But as bright as those stars have shined during this series, if it wasn't for the play of Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier, Matt Read and Wayne Simmonds--all players Holmgren brought in last summer--, it's very likely that the Penguins would not only have a pulse in this series, but they might actually be the ones in the driver's seat.
Schenn, who righted the ship after his rookie campaign got off to a tough, injury-plagued start, has been as effective getting Pittsburgh's stars off their game as he has been on the scoresheet. His beautiful redirect of a Scott Hartnell pass completed the Flyers comeback from a 3-0 deficit in the third period of game one, setting the stage for Jakub Voracek's overtime winner.
But the way he plays with an edge, constantly gnawing at the patience of Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang has proved to be invaluable for Philadelphia. In a rather uncharacteristic turn of events, it's been the Penguins who have been wildly undisciplined in this series, which has resulted in a number of power play chances for the Flyers. Nobody is to thank more than that, perhaps, than Schenn.
During game two's third period goal-a-thon, Couturier struck twice for his second and third goals of the contest, including an insurance marker that proved to be the dagger with just over five minutes remaining. His four-point performance earned him number one star honors, despite Giroux topping him with three goals and three assists of his own.
Why, you ask? Couturier, who was selected with the ninth overall pick Holmgren acquired along with Voracek from Columbus in the Jeff Carter trade, has also drawn the ire of the Penguins, but not for his chippy play.
Couturier plays a very clean game, in fact. He is also a damn fine defensive forward. Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette thought so highly of the 19-year old's defensive zone awareness that he's matched his line with the likes of Evgeni Malkin and James Neal for the majority of the series.
Yes, Evgeni Malkin, the expected Hart Trophy winner and James Neal, his 40-goal scoring winger. So far, Couturier has totally contained the pair of Pittsburgh all-stars. In three games, Malkin has just one point at even strength.
He's played so well, that Neal went out of his way to deliver a flying cheap shot to the youngster in the third period of game three that set off a powderkeg of angst from both sides.
Read, an undrafted free agent out of Bemidji State, was Philadelphia's most consistent rookie producer over the course of the regular season, with 24 goals and 47 points in 74 games. His workmanlike approach to the game hasn't seen a dropoff in production so far in his first Stanley Cup playoffs experience. Read's two goals today, including the eventual game-winner, kept the surging Penguins at an arm's length amidst all the extracurriculars that broke out after the whistles.
Simmonds has also done his fair share of engaging the opposition both during the play and after the whistle. It seems as though Philadelphia's biggest strength, besides Marc-Andre Fleury's pitiful rebound control, is their ability to have checking lines with offensive flair. Players like Couturier, Schenn and Simmonds, who have the talent to play on the top two lines for a number of teams, excel when given defensive assignments. However, when the opportunity presents itself to promote offense, they rarely disappoint:
The idea, obviously, when Holmgren made the decisions to make his group younger was that the players they were acquiring would give the Flyers a better chance to win once they grew into the NHL game than the personnel they previously had. Surely there would be a learning curve, and perhaps some sort of step back, right?
Wrong. These kids, none of which are past the age of 23, have competed with all the talent and professionalism of a 10-year veteran of the league. The future couldn't be brighter in Philadelphia, that much was a given since last July. But thanks to a few kids playing well beyond their years in the City of Brotherly Love, the present looks pretty exciting too.
Maybe this was Holmgren's plan all along.