The Flyers are preparing to face the Pittsburgh Penguins without their No. 1 center and arguably their most indispensable player in Sean Couturier.
Although the Flyers wouldn’t provide a medical update or playing status regarding Couturier, a handful of players who participated in the morning skate are bracing for the inevitable.
“Obviously, he’s upset," Claude Giroux said. "It’s hockey and obviously stuff like that is going to happen. It just sucks right now.”
Head coach Dave Hakstol took a page from Mike Sullivan’s script and listed all players as “game-time decisions," and wouldn’t elaborate further, but Couturier’s teammates understand the importance of his loss.
“Obviously, if he can’t go, that’s a big blow for us,” defenseman Brandon Manning said. “At the same time, it’s an opportunity for other guys to step up. I think collectively you have to bear down a little more and be better and communicate a bit more. G’s played center before and he can step into that role defensively and I think [Nolan Patrick’s] defensive game has come a long way this year.”
Giroux would be the one player most greatly impacted by Couturier’s loss. The Flyers’ captain had a Hart Trophy-worthy season scoring a career-high 34 goals and 102 points playing left wing alongside Couturier for all 82 games. If Giroux mans the middle, he’ll likely be flanked by Jakub Voracek on the right and either Michael Raffl or Travis Konecny on the left.
“I’ve played center nine years so I’m sure I’ll adapt pretty quick,” Giroux said. “Having played wing all year me and Coots have been switching a little bit, taking faceoffs and stuff, so if I have to play center, I’m not too worried about it.”
Two years ago, the Flyers had to make due without Couturier in their first-round series with Washington when he separated his shoulder on a hit from Alex Ovechkin.
Hakstol’s team struggled, allowing 10 goals over their next two games in the series while making the necessary defensive adjustments without Couturier while also receiving poor goaltending from Steve Mason. Michal Neuvirth eventually stepped in and provided stellar goaltending, which is what the Flyers need from Brian Elliott to have any chance of winning a series against the Penguins.
“When you look at playoff time and playoff goaltending, he’s made a lot of key saves,” Hakstol said. “Maybe there’s one more somewhere along the way in terms of timing of the key save that could have provided a boost to our team, but I thought [Elliott’s] play in Game 3 was pretty solid.”
Interestingly, Giroux made reference to the 2010 postseason run to the Stanley Cup Final when the Flyers didn’t have Jeff Carter for the first two series, as well as Simon Gagne, who missed the first three games of the Bruins series.
“It’s a great opportunity for guys to step up. I remember the year we went to the Cup both Simon Gagne and Jeff Carter were out,” Giroux said. “It was a good time for guys to step up. A great example was Ville Leino who came to our team. He didn’t play a lot of games in the regular season and then the playoffs started he was on one of the top lines and played well.”
Giroux was then asked if Jordan Weal is this year’s playoff version of Leino.
“Hopefully,” Giroux said.