Filling Sean Couturier’s Hole In Flyers’ Lineup

If there’s two forwards the Philadelphia Flyers didn’t want to lose to injury in their playoff run it’s Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier. The two centers anchor the top six, are key in matchups against other teams’ top lines and while Giroux produces a ton more offense, Couturier can be relied on for some production also.

Unfortunately for the Flyers, teams don’t get to choose who’s healthy and who isn’t or when injuries happen, so they’ll be playing the rest of their first round series against the Washington Capitals without Couturier. The pivot will miss the rest of the Caps series, no matter how long it goes, after suffering an AC sprain in his left shoulder at the hands of a hit along the boards from Alex Ovechkin.

The hit came in the second period and Couturier left the game immediately. He never returned and after the game the Flyers announced he would miss the rest of the series.

Couturier’s absence will leave Philadelphia with holes in nearly every facet of the game — offense, defense, penalty kill, power play and faceoffs — but there’s ways they can at least fix some of those missing pieces in the series.

Replacing Couturier In The Lineup

Replacing the 23-year-old on the ice and the things that he does on the ice will be two vastly different things for the Flyers over the next couple of games. Filling the spot in the lineup won’t be the difficult part.

Luckily for the team, the Flyers have a few options waiting in the wings in Scott Laughton, Jordan Weal and R.J. Umberger. Laughton’s played the most games of the trio this season and is the most likely choice to be inserted into Saturday’s game.

Scott Laughton (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)
Scott Laughton is the most likely choice to replace Sean Couturier in the Flyers’ lineup. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Maybe to the ire of Flyers’ fans, Umberger could be a dark horse to play. He easily has the most experience of the three, including 14 goals in 30 career playoff games. Weal and Laughton don’t have a single combined playoff game. Add to the fact that coach Dave Hakstol played Umberger because he brought structure to the roster and it becomes even more possible the former Blue Jacket could see playoff ice.

However, those 14 goals came when Umberger still scored at a 20-goal per season clip. Those days are long behind him. The logical choice to replace Couturier is still Laughton, who can slot anywhere in the lineup, to replace Couturier.

Replacing Couturier On The Ice

This is where things get tough for Philly. Couturier was supposed to be taxed with shutting down the Alex Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom-TJ Oshie line. With the 6-foot-4 center out, there’s no other shutdown guy on the Flyers besides Giroux, who would do better for the team trying to create offense.

Whether it’s Laughton, Weal or Umberger that joins the lineup, none of them will draw the short straw of anchoring a line that has to go against Washington’s top trio. That solution will have to come from the existing lineup and there’s a couple of options for Philly.

One of those is to play the fourth line against Ovechkin and company. Obviously, there’s a big skill difference there, but Hakstol has shown he believes in his fourth line to get the job done defensively and to control possession. But the speed and skill of the Capitals’ three would probably wear down the likes of Ryan White, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Chris VandeVelde sooner rather than later.

To get more skill out there against Ovechkin, Hakstol’s  best bet is to promote Nick Cousins to the second line, into Couturier’s spot, to center Michael Raffl and Brayden Schenn.

Cousins is still young, but he’s shown plenty of promise in his short NHL career. Schenn could also center the line, but any combination of Schenn, Cousins and Raffl would probably be the Flyers’ best chance at a shutdown line.

In no way is that perfect, but with Couturier injured, the Flyers won’t be able to find perfect in any solution.