As Sean Couturier slid into the center-ice circle to lead the Flyers' post-practice stretches, his popular nickname was bellowed out by his teammates.
"Coooooooooots," they said gleefully while tapping their sticks.
There's a comforting feeling for the Flyers when their 2019-20 Frank J. Selke Trophy winner is on the ice. He was back with them in practice Saturday for the first time since he suffered a costochondral separation on Jan. 15 during the team's second game of the season.
Couturier, who has been skating and working in skill sessions since Jan. 25, was a full participant in Saturday's practice. He was on a line with James van Riemsdyk and Jakub Voracek and took first-unit power play reps. Head coach Alain Vigneault labeled him as day to day but Couturier appeared ready to return and was featured in all his key spots. Following practice, the Flyers bussed to Washington, D.C., where they'll play a two-game set against the Capitals over Sunday (noon ET/NBC) and Tuesday (6 p.m. ET/NBCSP).
Let's just say it wouldn't be surprising if Couturier gives it a go Sunday.
"There's no doubt that he's getting closer," Vigneault said after Saturday's practice. "If that will be tomorrow, Tuesday or a day or two after that, I'm not quite sure yet. Today was the first time that he's had a practice with the team, but he has been skating since the beginning, whether it be with the taxi squad or on his own, so I'm not concerned at all about his conditioning and his timing because he's been able to skate and push through this. It's just a matter of him feeling healthy and our doctors and our medical staff saying that he's good to go."
Couturier's impending return is a timely one. The Flyers have shown progress but are still searching for the consistent 200-foot game Vigneault wants them to play. The Flyers are coming off back-to-back losses to the Bruins and entered Saturday putting up the NHL's fewest shots per game (23.8) while allowing the fourth most (32.9).
Couturier is a stabilizing, 200-foot force that the Flyers rely on in all situations. NBC Sports' NHL analyst Keith Jones made an excellent point Friday night on NBC Sports Philadelphia's Flyers Postgame Live about Couturier's game-changing impact. In the Flyers' 2-1 loss to the Bruins that night, Boston scored the game-tying goal in the third period with its big boys winning an offensive-zone draw and going to work. In that spot, Couturier's presence could be huge with his ability to win defensive-zone faceoffs and battles.
"They’ve got that top line that’s playing extremely well right now," Vigneault said postgame Friday. "In my mind, they were the difference tonight. That faceoff goal that they scored, they outmuscled us to the front of our net, they won that battle and they were able to put that puck in the net."
Couturier's return to practice wasn't the only positive sighting Saturday for the Flyers. They had a number of good signs. Carter Hart was one of them as he practiced and is expected to start Sunday after exiting Friday's morning skate early with back spasms. He was already slated to back up Brian Elliott on Friday prior to the back spasms, but ended up not dressing for the game out of precaution.
"I’m definitely feeling a lot better today," Hart said. "Just kind of tightened up yesterday and I was just erring on the side of caution. I know we've got a busy week coming up so I was just being a little bit more careful."
Philippe Myers (upper body) also practiced after surprisingly missing Friday night's game. Myers' status for Sunday is uncertain as Vigneault said the defenseman is considered day to day like Couturier.
"I'm not ruling anything out for tomorrow," Vigneault said.
The other good sign was Oskar Lindblom practicing. The 24-year-old winger absorbed a huge check Friday with over four and a half minutes left in regulation and did not take another shift.
"Oskar's been a warrior," Hart said. "He's been blocking a ton of shots, he's got tons of bruises. He's been great for us."
With multiple teams dealing with postponements because of the coronavirus pandemic, the NHL on Saturday announced numerous rescheduled games.
Here are the four changes for the Flyers:
• Flyers at Rangers on Feb. 16 has been moved to Feb. 14 (6 p.m. ET/NBCSP)
• Flyers at Sabres on Feb. 26 has been moved to Feb. 27 (1 p.m. ET/NBCSP)
• Flyers at Sabres on March 30 has been moved to March 31 (7:30 p.m. ET/NBCSP)
• Flyers at Devils on April 20 has been moved to April 1 (7 p.m. ET/NBCSP)
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