Two Sean Couturiers -- and a Bobby Hull, too -- wouldn’t have gotten the Flyers past the Ducks Tuesday night, not the way Philadelphia stick-checked, lost focus, and looked like the tired team against one that had played and travelled the night before.
It was the first clunker Dave Hakstol’s team had played in a while, and on a fifth game in eight days, the last three contests against teams that had playoff runs a year ago. But the Flyers have lost too much ground with three consecutive losses to afford themselves any excuses and have little time left to prove they can survive the loss of Couturier.
The Flyers are 21-12-8 with him and 2-8-2 without him. He is their headiest checker and their second-best offensive center on a team that currently doesn’t have third-best offensive center. After Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek and Shayne Gostisbehere, Couturier probably is the club’s fourth most indispensible player. But good teams play a lot more like the Flyers did over the weekend than they did Monday night, when nobody stepped up.
The season is far from over, but to come out the other side of the next three weeks minus Couturier still in position to make a run for the playoffs, the Flyers have to better think the game than they have been doing. So here are some thoughts as to how they can survive the absence of a player who, in his fifth NHL season at age 23, has become increasingly indispensible:
1) It’s never too late, if the late man keeps coming. The defense has to score, which is how the Flyers won four straight from January 5 to January 13, when D-men had a goal in each game. Sunday in Washington, the Caps’ Matt Niskanen received a gold-plated invitation and gratefully accepted, how the Caps won a 3-2 game and the Flyers lost it.
Already Gostisbehere, on a 9-game scoring streak, is one of better players in the NHL at jumping up into the play. The Flyers have some mobility back there now and more than ever have to use it.
2) Get the required saves and then some. Rickard Rakell’s second goal Monday night on Steve Mason was savable and a killer, and it goes without saying the Flyers need better. Overall, goaltending has rarely been the Flyers problem this season, but now it has to be the solution. Six days ago, Mason outplayed one of the best in the league, Pekka Rinne. It is not by coincidence that was the Flyers’ last victory.
3) Find another scorer internally. Nick Cousins was averaging a point a game at Lehigh Valley when he was recalled and now he is playing with more skilled players, including Sam Gagner, who routinely scored 15 goals a year not that long ago in Edmonton.
Scott Laughton, who had 87 points in his final season at Oshawa, is starting to make some plays, perhaps an indication that things are starting to come for a first-round pick.
Ryan White took his turn being a scoring hero Saturday, now somebody else can step up. We’re not looking for Reggie Leach here, just some guys who have shown some presence around the net in the past to dribble one over the line here and there.
4) Put down those binoculars. It’s still three weeks to the trading deadline and the cavalry may not be coming anyway. A lot of the $4 million in salary cap room Ron Hextall created with the Kings trade will go towards paying people who you will want to keep. Besides, there may not be anything better out there than what the Flyers already have.
5) Stay out of the box. The Flyers, 24th in the league in penalty killing, have been shorthanded the seventh-most minutes of any team in the league. Despite improvement in both regards lately, these numbers still do not compute for a playoff spot, especially with the team’s best penalty killer out. The Flyers continue to put themselves in too many jackpots. They are among the vast majority of teams in the NHL that have little margin for errors and still make too many of them in judgment.
6) The first line has to be the best line in the league. Okay, maybe second best, but certainly it cannot be the distracted, frustrated unit it was on Monday night. Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek and Wayne Simmonds have to again get hot, not hot under the collar. We understand they need help from another scoring line, but also know that they can carry a team.