April 18, 2012|By Sam Carchidi, Inquirer Staff Writer

Sean Couturier , fighting off Paul Martin for a puck, is plus-3 so far.…

During his earlier teenage years, when Sean Couturier wasn’t on the ice refining his skills, he watched as many NHL games as possible, and there was one explosive player who became his favorite.

A guy named Evgeni Malkin.

The same guy Couturier is frustrating in the first round of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

Couturier, the 19-year-old Flyers rookie center, has gotten under the skin of Malkin, the veteran Pittsburgh Penguins center who had an NHL-high 109 regular-season points and is heavily favored to win the league’s MVP award.

You can see Malkin’s annoyance by his actions on the ice, the punches and shoves he has thrown at Couturier as the unflappable youngster skates away after denying him the puck and space.

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“When I was younger, I used to admire him,” Couturier said after Tuesday’s practice in Voorhees.

The Couturier-Malkin battle has been a fascinating game within a game, one that will climb the intensity meter Wednesday night as the Flyers try to hand the Stanley Cup-favorite Penguins their first four-game sweep since 1979.

Couturier still respects Malkin, but he is no longer the wide-eyed guy who was in awe of Malkin’s talent.

“When I’m out there,” Couturier said, “I just think he’s another player.”

Another player who, throughout his six-year career, has changed a game’s course hundreds of times.

But it hasn’t happened in this series. Shadowed by Couturier, Malkin, a 50-goal scorer in the regular season, is goalless, and that’s a big reason the Flyers have a three-games-to-none lead.

“He’s one of the best, so if you can stop him, it’s pretty big motivation,” Couturier said. “He’s so good that we have to be ready next game. He can turn the series around at any time.”

Said former Penguin Max Talbot, whose two shorthanded goals have helped turn the series the Flyers’ way: “Geno’s a guy who needs the puck. You can’t really give him time and space because he’s going to make you look bad. He’s probably one of the most skilled guys out there, and Sean has been in his face. He’s so smart for 19 years old, the way he plays with his stick and his [puck] possession.”

Couturier called it a team shutdown and deflected the praise to his line mates – usually Talbot and Zac Rinaldo or Eric Wellwood – and defensemen Braydon Coburn and Nick Grossmann.

The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Malkin is only 25, but he already has three 100-point seasons on his resume. He had five shots and two assists in Game 3 and could be on the verge of a breakout.

Source : Inside the Flyers: So far, Couturier getting best of Malkin – Philadelphia Inquirer