CALGARY, Alberta — Once again, Dave Hakstol is hoping to use the Flames to light a fire under his own team.
Hakstol has resorted to splitting up Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux, a tandem that had played together for the past 108 regular-season games dating back to last season.
“There’s not an easy decision there,” Hakstol said Tuesday. “That gives us the option to be a little bit deeper up the middle.”
Regardless of the chemistry between Giroux and Couturier, it’s a move that figured to come into consideration after the Flyers signed James van Riemsdyk this summer. On paper, the Flyers appear to have more balance with a second line of Michael Raffl, Jake Voracek and Couturier. It could be just as dominant as the top line of JVR, Giroux and Travis Konecny.
“Look at (Raffl), he looks pretty excited,” Couturier said. “We’re three big bodies and they’re two guys on the wing who can use their speed as well.”
Giroux and Couturier have proven they can coexist without each other. The Flyers' captain produced a four-point game Saturday in Buffalo. In Game 6 of last year’s playoffs, Couturier came up with the game of his life with a hat trick and five points on a torn MCL.
Couturier is expected to return Wednesday after missing the previous two games with a lower-body injury.
A lot better. I think it was just more cautious. I probably could have played through it. Something that this time of the year to be smart with and not battle through pain and injuries the rest of the year.
The move is as much of a reflection of how poorly Nolan Patrick has played as the Flyers' second-line center. While many believed Patrick would take that next step in his development, at times, he has been completely unnoticeable with one assist over his past 11 games.
“It’s an easier matchup for Patty so it’s huge,” Jake Voracek said. “It could work very well. Would this happen if Coots didn’t get hurt? Maybe not.”
With Patrick, there have been spurts and moments of solid play, but he has failed to string together any momentum since putting together a four-game point streak during the West Coast swing in early November. He’s currently on pace to match the numbers he put up during his rookie season.
Tuesday’s practice had some of the most profound changes we’ve seen from Hakstol all season with Patrick centering Scott Laughton and Wayne Simmonds and recent callup Phil Varone playing center over veterans Jori Lehtera and Jordan Weal.
Interestingly, Giroux also used Tuesday as a maintenance day with the team already having a day off Monday. If Giroux continues to play center, the Flyers will have to monitor the stress level on Giroux’s body after an injury-free season a year ago on the wing.
“The schedule gets real heavy,” Hakstol said. “We just came out of a stretch where we barely played. Managing energy is a huge part of it.”
Last season, Hakstol used this same Calgary game to break up, at that time, the best line in hockey — Giroux, Couturier and Voracek — and the Flyers responded by going on a six-game winning streak.
At this point, the Flyers will try just about anything to win back-to-back games, which they haven’t been able to do over the past month.
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