NEW YORK -- While the Flyers had to deal with the hassle of having their game in Brooklyn against the New York Islanders postponed (see story), Sean Couturier used the unscheduled day off as an opportunity to rest up.
The 23-year-old center was the only Flyer not accounted for during Saturday morning’s practice session at the Barclays Center. He missed Thursday’s 4-3 loss to the Penguins in Pittsburgh with a lower-body ailment and was listed as “day to day” by general manager Ron Hextall.
But would Couturier have been available if Saturday night's contest wasn’t called off?
“No change in him,” head coach Dave Hakstol said after his team skated for about 45 minutes. “Still day to day. I wouldn’t answer that question any differently than if we were at morning skate.”
OK. Would he at least have practiced with his teammates in preparation for the Isles at the morning skate?
“Day to day with a lower body,” Hakstol reiterated.
Clearly Hakstol isn’t into hypotheticals, although the Flyers do tend to have a tight-lipped policy when it comes to player injuries. That’s nothing new.
Regardless, the Flyers are hoping their second-line pivot will be ready to return for Monday’s matchup with the Boston Bruins at the Wells Fargo Center. They are 1-5-1 in seven games without Couturier this season. He previously missed time in late October and early November because of a concussion he sustained on a cheap shot by Boston forward Zac Rinaldo in the first meeting between the two teams.
Prior to his latest injury, Couturier was in the midst of an impressive stretch. He racked up six goals and eight assists in 14 games from Dec. 15 through Jan. 21 and was arguably the club's best skater during that run.
His absence in the Flyers’ loss to Pittsburgh threw the lineup completely out of whack. He wasn't just missed because of his track record against Evgeni Malkin, but also for his ability to provide stabilizing shifts in both ends, especially in terms of generating puck possession.
Hakstol used Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Scott Laughton to blanket Malkin, who didn’t record a point, but the team was visibly weaker in the defensive zone without Couturier. They were outworked from the second period on and lost entirely too many puck battles.
Another major burden fell on Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek. The trio drew the unenviable task of trying to shut down Sidney Crosby’s unit and it didn’t work out well at all. The Flyers’ top line spent most of the game pinned in their own end instead of on the attack.
“Me and G and Simmer played a lot the last few games," Voracek said. "You look at the New York Rangers game, Detroit game, Pittsburgh game, we played over 21 minutes. It’s good to get some rest, when you look at it we’re gonna be four days without a game again. That’s a long break. We’re not doing really well with those long breaks this year. Hopefully it won’t effect us on Monday.”
Despite back-to-back lackluster losses in regulation and the postponement, the Flyers were in good spirits on Saturday. They're not going to be caught wasting any time dwelling on their recent struggles or the uncertainty surrounding Couturier's status.
“I think we’re professionals and we can adapt," Giroux said. "We had a good practice today. We’ll have another good practice tomorrow and we’ll be ready for Monday.”
Backup goalie Michal Neuvirth was in some pain as he exited the ice surface after practice at Barclays Center on Saturday morning. He told trainer Jimmy McCrossin he pulled his groin at some point during the session before heading to the locker room.
Neuvirth, who signed a two-year deal with the Flyers over the summer, has been spectacular in his first season in Philadelphia. He's 10-5-2 with a .936 save percentage, 2.05 goals-against average and three shutouts in 19 games -- 17 starts -- in 2015-16.
In his last outing, Neuvirth turned aside 29 of 30 shots in a 2-1 win over the Red Wings in Detroit on Jan. 17.