In the preseason, the Flyers' new top line was called an experiment. But if the line's play in the first five regular-season games is an indication, you are going to continue seeing Sean Couturier centering new left winger Claude Giroux and right winger Jake Voracek for a long time.
Coach Dave Hakstol's creative gamble — moving Couturier, a mediocre offensive player in his first six seasons, to the No. 1 unit — has paid early dividends.
Couturier has made the line much more defensively responsible. That was expected. What wasn't expected was the line's offensive production: a combined 22 points in the Flyers' 3-2 start. And the three usually face an opponent's top checking unit.
After Monday's practice in Voorhees, Voracek called Couturier "a very responsible guy on both sides of the puck, and it shows. He creates more space for me and 'G' on offense. It feels like he always has the answer for whatever we say. We call him 'The Answer.' "
Voracek, off to the best start in his career, entered Monday fourth in the league in points (no goals, nine assists) and second in assists. Couturier (three goals, three assists) was tied for second in the NHL with a plus-8 rating. Giroux (three goals, four assists), a little more than a year removed from hip and abdominal surgery that limited his mobility, has shown much more speed than last season.
"Those guys are continuing to build chemistry," said Hakstol, whose team will host Florida (2-2) on Tuesday in the second game of a five-game homestand.
"I think there's only been one game where we didn't play that well, the game in Nashville, but it happens," Voracek said. "We've had four lines going, four lines scoring, and that's why we've been successful."
Last week, Couturier said he and his linemates all had a pass-first mentality and needed to start shooting more. The next game, he and Giroux had two goals apiece in an 8-2 wipeout of Washington.
Giroux also said the trio needs to develop a shooter's mentality. After the win over the Capitals, Voracek said that's easier said than done.
"I have a story for you guys," he said. "Everybody's saying shoot, shoot, shoot … but everybody's blocking shots and there aren't many open lanes. You have to create that space, which we're doing by skating."
Voracek said "everybody knows me and 'G' like to pass. I think I'm worse than 'G.' He's shooting once in a while. With me, every time I have the puck, I'm looking for the passing play. Obviously, it's not the best play every single time, but I've been playing that way my while life and it's not easy to change up."
Voracek smiled. "I know if I screw up the pass, the better option was probably to shoot," he said. "I don't need anybody to tell me, 'You screwed up the pass, you should have shot!' No … kidding. Thanks. But if I make that pass, it's a goal."
Giroux came up as a right winger but has played mostly center in his NHL career, so there has been an adjustment in moving to left wing.
"When you're playing the wing, you're trying to make them lose you and trying to find the open ice," he said. "Jake and Coots are good at holding onto the puck, so it gives me time to get open."
Giroux said the Flyers' training camp contributed to their strong start.
"When the season started, we were game-shape ready," he said. "That's one of the reasons we're in this position We're only 3-2, but it doesn't feel it."