The Flyers’ quest to make the playoffs encountered a black knight on Friday with the announcement that center Sean Couturier will be out for a month with a lower-body injury. Couturier missed three games prior to the All-Star break, and apparently re-aggravated the injury during Thursday’s 6-3 win over Nashville, in which he did not play the third period.
Couturier had been flourishing for the Flyers of late, recording six goals and 10 assists for 16 points in his last 16 games. And even when points are hard to come by, Couturier provides the Flyers with a steady defensive presence and often draws the assignment of shutting down the other team’s top line or top player. The Flyers do not have a regulation win in any of the nine games Couturier has missed this season – they’re 2-6-1 without him, with one of the two wins coming in overtime and the other in a shootout.
However, the Flyers will spend less time than it takes to read that last paragraph feeling sorry for themselves over the situation. Fortunately for them, injuries have been staying away this season for the most part, so they have a multitude of options to fill Couturier’s role. Head coach Dave Hakstol said it’s going to take a bunch of those options combined together to do so.
“He’s been an impact player for us at both ends of the rink,” Hakstol said. “We’ve got to have different players take pieces of what Coots does for us. I don’t think we’re going to have one guy come in and completely fill that role. We’ll have different guys step in and take different pieces of his role. They’ll have to add that to what they do, and go out and do it well.”
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare is another solid defensive center that can kill penalties and make life difficult for the opponent’s top lines, so he figures to take some of the load. Scott Laughton will also be looked upon to help out, especially in five-on-five situations.
“I would love the challenge,” Laughton said. “I hope it happens and I hope I can prove I can play good minutes, play good defense and let offense take care of itself.”
In a pleasing development, Laughton had an outstanding game against Nashville on Thursday. He set up a pair of goals, including a brilliant stretch pass that probably covered almost 100 feet and sprung Wayne Simmonds on a breakaway for his first of two goals in the game.
“Laughts made a couple plays that helped us gain a little offense,” Hakstol said. “I thought last night was one of his better games over the last couple of weeks, so hopefully that’s a springboard into the near future. He was a good, reliable player last night.”
In addition, the Flyers have called up center Nick Cousins from Lehigh Valley. Cousins was an AHL All-Star this year and is having the best season of his young career, even better than the one a year ago that earned him his NHL debut late last season. He’s at a point-per-game pace with 12 goals and 26 assists for 38 points in 38 games, and has already taken 108 shots in that time – he took 128 shots in 64 games last year, and had 108 in all 74 games he played in his rookie season. The Flyers would love to see that offense carry over to the NHL level, although if there’s any time the Flyers could afford to lose some of that, it would be now – Couturier is just one of five Flyers forwards that has been at a point-per-game pace or better in recent weeks, along with Claude Giroux, Brayden Schenn, Jake Voracek, and Wayne Simmonds. The Flyers also have R.J. Umberger and Jordan Weal at their disposal, both of whom have been healthy scratches over the last few games.
The silver lining for the Flyers is that Couturier is expected to make a full recovery and will not have to worry about the injury in the future. What’s more, his return following the trade deadline will make it seem like the Flyers are getting an extra acquisition without actually giving anything up.
“This is not one of those [injuries] that you worry about long-term,” Hextall said. “It’s a big loss for us, but we’ve got other guys who have to fill in and pick up the slack. I like the resiliency of our team. we’ve got to continue with that. Coots is a big part, but other guys will have a chance to step up and get more minutes.”