When Sean Couturier and Radko Gudas collided during practice on Tuesday, Philadelphia Flyers fans held their breath. Their star centre crashed violently to the ice, throwing his stick in frustration. He remained down on the ice, needing the assistance of the team’s trainer to leave the ice. With a noticeable limp on his right side, Couturier left practice and would not return.
Gudas did not want to comment much on the incident, but he mentioned that neither player saw each other and that it was a tough break. While the nature of Couturier’s injury is unknown, he will be a game-time decision tonight.
#BREAKING Our @6abc video of @NHLFlyers star Sean Couturier going DOWN at practice today after colliding with Radko Gudas. He limps off with the trainer. Claude Giroux told me "it didn't look good." So far no update from the #Flyers #NHLPlayoffs2018 #EarnTomorrow pic.twitter.com/SlfplFKjUd
— Jamie Apody (@JamieApody) April 17, 2018
Sean Couturier Remains A Game-Time Decision
If Couturier is unable to play against the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight, it would be a huge blow to the Flyers lineup. Their number one centre reached career highs in goals, assists, and points this season. His 31 goals are more than double of his previous career high of 15. His 76 points are almost double his previous high of 39.
Couturier has three points so far in the playoffs, one goal and two assists. All of his points came in the Flyers 5-1 victory in game two. His point totals are not indicative of the impact he has on the Flyers, however. It will be his play in all situations that will be felt if Couturier cannot go.
Couturier has averaged a total of 24:35 of ice time against the Penguins. He is used on the top line, top power-play unit and a key piece of the penalty kill. The Flyers will need to step up big time to fill any holes.
While Dave Hakstol did not tip his hand to any possible lineup changes, there are a few different directions the team can go in.
Top Line Center Nolan Patrick
When Couturier left practice yesterday, Hakstol moved Nolan Patrick up to the top line. While it may have been a temporary fix, it does not rule out the possibility of Patrick remaining there for game four.
The rookie bounced back from a tough beginning of the season and has been arguably one of the best players in the playoffs. He recorded his first career playoff goal in the 5-1 game two victory. He has also taken on more responsibility as the season wore on.
Top Power Play Time
When Wayne Simmonds went down with an injury, Patrick was promoted to the top power-play unit and his impact was immediately felt. He would score on the man advantage in his first game with the top unit. He would add another PP goal the following game as well.
Patrick has seen time on this unit during the playoffs as well. His goal in game two came on the man advantage.
Moving Patrick to the top line would leave Claude Giroux as the left winger, a position he has succeeded at this season. The only knock against this move would be a potential matchup against Sidney Crosby. The Flyers would likely stay away from that, however.
Rewarding Patrick with this promotion would be on par for how the Flyers have treated him this season. Starting the season with Dale Weise, Patrick began spending more time higher up in the lineup as the season wore on. He had become the permanent second line centre, slotted between Simmonds and Jakub Voracek.
Patrick has earned a promotion once again and could see it if Couturier is ruled out tonight.
Moving Giroux Back To Center
While Giroux has thrived at left wing this season, it would be no surprise to see a move back to centre. The Flyers currently struggle with depth at the centre position and keeping Giroux at wing could highlight that even more.
If the team decides that moving Giroux back to centre is the right idea, it allows them to keep Patrick as the number two centre. That leaves Valtteri Filppula and Jori Lehtera as the likely third and fourth line centres.
During practice yesterday, the team ran a third line of Jordan Weal, Filppula and Michael Raffl. The fourth line consisted of Scott Laughton, Lehtera and Matt Read. These lines would likely be altered if Couturier cannot play.
The move the team would likely make from there is to move Raffl back up to the top line. He has seen frequent time with Giroux and Voracek. Following that, Lindblom would slide back into the lineup, potentially in Raffl’s place.
There is no hiding the Flyers depth issues, but moving Giroux back to centre could be the best option to not highlight it even more.
There is hope that the Flyers will not need to make a move at all. The game time decision status of Sean Couturier could indicate that the injury is not a serious one. No matter the case, tonight’s game is all but a must-win for the Flyers. They do not want to go into Pittsburgh in a potential elimination game.
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