Perhaps the best thing about Claude Giroux remaining out of the Flyers’ lineup for Tuesday’s game in Carolina is that Sean Couturier might be making his return, a week ahead of schedule. Or perhaps the worst thing about Couturier coming back is that now Giroux is out. Glass half-full or glass half-empty.
Regardless, it’s just another day at the office for the Flyers as a group. They have been a resilient team all year, rolling with various punches – whether it’s the temporary loss of a goaltender, the long-term loss of Mark Streit back in the fall, or Sunday’s news that Michael Del Zotto will not return this season due to impending wrist surgery.
“At this point I think we’ve been missing a couple guys throughout the lineup and I think we’ve done a pretty good job,” said winger Wayne Simmonds. “We’d like to have [Giroux], but circumstances the way they are, if we don’t get him back for our next game we’ve just got to go about it the way we went about last game and take care of our business.”
That sort of sentiment existed throughout the locker room on Monday, although nobody was downplaying Giroux’s importance to the team.
“He’s one of the best players in the league,” Jake Voracek said. “One of the best on faceoffs in the league, plays PK, plays power plays, obviously it’s a huge hole. But I think we did a pretty good job in Toronto and found our way through that game. It’s going to be the same tomorrow.”
That Toronto performance was the basis for how head coach Dave Hakstol is approaching tomorrow’s game without Giroux.
“It’s part of the game right now,” Hakstol said. “You look throughout, everybody’s got guys that are nicked up right now. Obviously G is a very important player. He’s our captain, he’s our leader and he plays in a lot of different situations for us. But like we did a couple nights ago, everybody takes a piece of that role and adds it to what they do. We expect to go out and do a good job.”
COUTURIER READY TO RETURN
Couturier skated with the Flyers on Monday and afterwards pronounced himself fit to return to the lineup. Hakstol said the final decision would be made tomorrow, but the Flyers certainly won’t wait any longer than necessary after coping with Couturier’s absence for most of this busiest month of their season.
“It’s been tough the last month, watching from home all these games and not being able to help the team,” Couturier said. “I’ve been working hard off the ice to try and stay in shape and to be ready when I get back.”
His teammates were definitely happy to see him back out on the ice.
“That’s the first time Coots has skated with us in a full team practice since he got hurt,” Simmonds said. “That’s huge. So if he is in the lineup tomorrow night, ready to go, that’s massive for us. He’s one of our best players. I think he brings a calming influence to the team that not a lot of guys can bring, just the way he plays, his presence, offensively and defensively.”
When he does return, Couturier is hoping to pick up where he left off. He’d recorded six goals and nine assists for 15 points in his last 15 games before going on the shelf. Saturday’s win was just the fifth in 18 games the team has played without Couturier; the Flyers are 21-12-7 with him in the lineup this year.
“It’s probably the best stretch of my career so far, the last two or three months,” Couturier said. “I’m just going to try to build off that. I still feel confident about my game coming back here, and I’m going to try to carry that into the next two months.”
CAROLINA ON THE MIND
When the Flyers arrive in Raleigh, they will find a Carolina team that is likely hoping to tear them apart. For as frustrating as one overtime loss is, the Hurricanes have been the victims of three to the Flyers this year. That’s the first time in franchise history the Flyers have done that to any opponent. Shayne Gostisbehere had two of the OT winners himself and set up the game-tying goal in the other one, which happened to be his first NHL point.
But things have changed drastically for the Hurricanes since then. The team is 15-9-5 since the last meeting 10 days before Christmas, and has leapfrogged three teams – including the Flyers – to stay within four points of a playoff spot.
“They’re a hot team right now,” Gostisbehere said. “I think the last time we played they weren’t anywhere near the playoff picture. We just want to get out there and do our thing.”
What’s more, those three extra points the Flyers got against the Hurricanes are a very big difference right now, to both teams. As it stands now, Carolina is four points out of the last wild card spot and the Flyers are five back, while having played two fewer games. Swing it the other way and Carolina is only one point out of a spot right now, while the Flyers would have been eight.
“It’s huge,” Simmonds said. “They’re [one point] up on us right now and we’ve got games in hand on them. It has huge playoff implications for us. So we’ve got to be ready, mentally and physically. We might be short some guys, so everyone’s got to step up and take care of their business so we can fill the holes there.”
Hakstol says the Flyers’ approach will be the same, knowing full well that all three games were close enough to require OT.
“We’ve had tough games against them,” Hakstol said. “I don’t think their team game has changed a whole lot. They play a fast game. Their team transition, the contribution that their defense gives them jumping into the play… all of those things are still in place. They’ve played great hockey here over the last stretch. They’re in no different a situation than we are. We’re going to have a lot of these games. We’re up against a team that we’re pretty close to in the standings, and the two points are pretty important.”
The game will be televised on The Comcast Network beginning at 7:00, with the radio broadcast set for 93.3 WMMR.