Flyers

2018 Flyers training camp storyline: Sean Couturier's injured right knee

2018 Flyers training camp storyline: Sean Couturier's injured right knee

Each day leading up to Sept. 14, the official start of Flyers training camp, we'll dissect the biggest storylines facing the team ahead of the 2018-19 season.

When the news trickled down late last month that Sean Couturier returned to Philadelphia after suffering a knee injury at a charity event, there was a collective gasp of concern.

Flyers general manager Ron Hextall quickly calmed the storm. Couturier would miss four weeks and he did not reinjure the torn MCL he played through in Game 6 against Pittsburgh.

But Couturier was going to miss some of training camp and preseason. There was good news Monday, before the Flyers’ prospects and rookies took the ice on Day 1 of rookie camp.

Couturier, 25, was on the ice at Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, New Jersey, firing one-timers, which is an obvious positive sign that he will be ready for the Oct. 4 opener.

Hextall said Couturier remains on the same four-week timeline and that he will play in the tail end of the Flyers’ preseason schedule. Monday was his first day on the ice, Couturier said.

“They don’t want me to push it too much,” Couturier said. “But, naturally, you kind of do push it because it’s the way I feel, and I felt good. Hopefully, [Tuesday] it responds well.”

Couturier said he will likely be skating on his own for another week or two and then go from there. He’s wearing a knee brace, which he said he’s using during this time period to get used to it.

The Flyers do not have a policy against players participating in charity events during the offseason, which is how Couturier suffered the knee injury.

On Monday, Couturier offered some insight on the charity event he hurt his knee at, which he called a "high-level tournament."

"Basically all the guys from Quebec meet up and play games all weekend to see where we're at in our summer training," Couturier said. "To see where we're at and push each other.

"They raise money for charity doing that, so it's part of the training. You're cautious but at the same time, not just going to sit back on my couch all summer and show up to camp."

With Couturier on schedule to return by the end of the preseason slate, there isn't much cause for concern. That said, how his knee holds up is worth watching.

Factor in that Couturier is coming off a torn MCL and that he suffered a non-contact injury to the same knee a few months later, there is some reason to be concerned.

"With the years, you learn yourself, learn your body," Couturier said. "It's a freak accident that happened. We have time to rest it, recuperate it and heal it, so we'll take the time.

"It's not like in-season where you're kind of rushing back to help the team. Now we have the time that we need to heal it and we'll take it."

Couturier enters the 2018-19 season as the Flyers' No. 1 center for the second straight campaign. Except this time, there are no questions about his production.

Playing with Claude Giroux and either Jakub Voracek or Travis Konecny last season, Couturier posted career highs across the board: 31 goals, 45 assists and 76 points.

There is a possibility that Couturier and Giroux are broken up this season as the Flyers have a vacancy at third-line center and Hextall opened the door for Giroux to return to center.

During the early portion of preseason, we'll likely see Giroux play a bit of center with Couturier out. And if Giroux does move back to center, it's not like Couturier moves to the third line.

Couturier will continue to have a prominent role in 2018-19, either as the top-line center or second-line center. He also found success on the power play last season.

The best-case scenario for the Flyers would be reuniting the top line of Couturier, Giroux and Konecny (see story).

There is no reason to believe, though, that last season was an outlier for Couturier. He finally discovered his offensive game and now he's entering the prime of his career.

And the Flyers have him signed through 2021-22 at a $4.33 million cap hit. Health withstanding, that's a pretty damn good deal.

More on the Flyers

Flyers stock watch: As Claude Giroux goes, so do the Flyers

Flyers stock watch: As Claude Giroux goes, so do the Flyers

After a 5-0-1 stretch of solid hockey and signs that the Flyers were climbing their way up in the Metropolitan Division, they took a step back.

The Flyers are once again a middle-of-the-pack team after failing to capitalize during a recent five-game homestand, finishing with a 2-2-1 mark (see weekly observations).

At the quarter pole of the NHL season, it’s time to take inventory of who’s up and who’s down in this week’s stock watch. 

Stock up

Claude Giroux
It’s a pretty simple formula: When Giroux scores, the Flyers' chances of winning increase significantly. In the six games that Giroux has been held without a point, the Flyers are 0-5-1. They're 9-4-1 when he cracks the scoresheet. Overall, Giroux’s game has been steady and a continuation from what we saw last season. The captain currently has five multi-point games over his past nine and has been saddled with some major minutes (at least 22 in each of the past five games) while adding penalty-kill duties.  

Sean Couturier
We’re finally starting to see the Couturier that made him into a Selke Trophy finalist last season. After a slow start of trying to find his speed and timing, Couturier has been the Flyers' most consistent player at both ends of the ice. His three-point effort against the Blackhawks was the pinnacle of the season as he outmuscled Chris Kunitz to score on Corey Crawford. With just three points in his first 11 games, Couturier has found his stride offensively with points (five goals, six assists) in seven of his last nine games.  

Stock down

Oskar Lindblom
If I was writing this column 10 days ago, Lindblom’s stock would be at an all-time high, but he’s regressed over the past week. After an impressive five-game point streak in which he tallied two goals and five assists, Lindblom has just one assist over his past four games and has seen his ice time dip from the 16-minute range to playing just 10:07 in a 3-0 loss to the Devils on Thursday. It should be a matter of time before James van Riemsdyk reasserts himself on that line, leaving Lindblom with third-line minutes.

Jori Lehtera
Dave Hakstol finally came to the realization that Lehtera has been bringing very little to the Flyers. Once JVR finally returned to the Flyers' lineup, Lehtera was the one who came out, and as a result, forced Hakstol to move Scott Laughton back to center. Lehtera’s recent lack of ice time is a reflection of how he’s played and how he’s turned into a “black hole” in the offensive end of the ice. In his last seven games, Lehtera hasn’t registered a single shot on net and has proven to be a liability on the penalty kill.  

Nolan Patrick
Much is expected out of the 20-year-old, who like Lindblom, broke out of his early season shell during the Flyers' recent trip out West. But like any young player, Patrick has failed to keep a level of consistency throughout his overall play. While he maintains defensive responsibilities on a rather consistent basis, his offense and his aggressiveness to push play in the opponent’s zone are sporadic. Patrick currently has one goal and two points over his past six games and had a brief opportunity to solidify his place on the top power-play unit. It’s not that Patrick has been a bad player, but he’s displayed the ability to be a better player.

Travis Sanheim
To his credit, Sanheim has cleaned up his game defensively to the point that he doesn’t make you nervous in his own end of the ice. However, with Sanheim’s size, he should be more of a physical presence in separating a player from the puck. Too often, he loses those battles. But Sanheim’s strength is in his offense by pushing the puck up the ice and creating offensive chances. To that end, he’s been nonexistent over his past 10 games and hasn’t registered a single point. Even playing 17 minutes on a regular basis, there has to be a more concerted effort on Sanheim’s part to generate offense. Otherwise, that skill set simply goes to waste.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Flyers

Flyers weekly observations: A glaring concern goes on full display

Flyers weekly observations: A glaring concern goes on full display

The Flyers lost all three games this week and ended a five-game homestand a mediocre 2-2-1.

Some observations:

• James van Riemsdyk put up a goal and two assists in Saturday's 6-5 overtime loss to the Lightning. In his second game back from injury, the Flyers scored three power-play goals, matching their total from Oct. 13 to Nov. 16, which spanned 43 opportunities.

Think he's a difference-maker?

However, what is truly worrisome is that a glaring concern entering the 2018-19 season was on full display Saturday. We knew the Flyers could score. This team has talent, the power play won't be this bad, pucks will be put in the net.

But can the Flyers stop teams?

With the situation in net and the ongoing penalty-kill woes, the Flyers can score all they want — it might not make a difference.

- Hall

• I didn't think Calvin Pickard played bad Saturday against the Lightning. I believe he was the victim of circumstance.

The Lightning's second goal was leaky but the rest? Ivan Provorov played soft and was outmuscled by Brayden Point, who is two inches shorter and 35 pounds lighter, on the third goal. Wayne Simmonds lost his man on the overtime winner. The other two were PPGs.

Still, Pickard finished with a .769 save percentage. His last start wasn't much better — .778 save percentage. He has a .852 save percentage in eight games. Pickard wasn't bad against Tampa, but the bottom line is, you need your goalie to makes saves and Pickard hasn't shown he's capable of doing it on a consistent basis.

With Brian Elliott out at least two weeks, the Flyers gave Pickard first swing Saturday. It's time to end this experiment. Alex Lyon deserves an opportunity.

- Dougherty

• The Flyers outshot their opponent in each of the three losses during the week.

Overall, they outshot the opposition 105-83 but were outscored 11-6.

For some context, this past week the Maple Leafs registered 104 shots and allowed 107 in three games but went 3-0-0 and outscored the competition 12-6.

It makes you wonder — are the Flyers getting the quality shots you need on a consistent basis to win games?

"We did give up some shots, but they weren’t scoring chances," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said after the Flyers outshot Tampa 45-26, "so you can shoot a lot of pucks and it’s going to look good on the stat line, but if they’re not quality chances, it’s two-fold."

The Flyers have eight losses when they outshoot an opponent, which is tied for most in the NHL.
 
- Hall

• Through 20 games, the Flyers are 9-9-2. This was expected to be a season this team takes a step forward and a quarter of the way in, the Flyers are again average at best with huge, gaping deficiencies. Team defense remains a problem, the goaltending situation has been a total miscalculation by general manager Ron Hextall and the penalty kill has been a disaster.

The Flyers ended this week tying a season high three-game losing streak and while they did so by showing fight — something they didn't do three weeks ago — there needs to be accountability. There's a reason opposing players no longer fear Wells Fargo Center. The fans have been patient than ever but patience grows tired and it's reaching its tipping point.

Just look at the penalty kill — which allowed four power-play goals last week. It's been brutal for the past four seasons and it's been worse than ever. Yet, there's been no change in structure or coach, no accountability. Why?

- Dougherty

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Flyers