The Philadelphia Flyers entered the season with the low expectations, to put it lightly. They might not have the flashy offensive firepower of teams considered playoff favorites and Stanley Cup contenders, but they own a 5-2-0 record two weeks into the season with regulation victories over the defending Eastern Conference champions and the defending Presidents’ Trophy winners. Goaltender Carter Hart posted another glowing effort on Thursday against the Florida Panthers, bringing his season save percentage (SV%) to .947.
While the team is off to a nice start on the ice, the astonishing extent of the injury bug continues. General manager (GM) Chuck Fletcher has already claimed two players off waivers early in the season. The best overall player, Sean Couturier, and the best goal scorer on the team, Cam Atkinson, have yet to make their season debuts. Both players have indefinite injury timelines. New head coach John Tortorella is already learning the harsh reality of Philadelphia’s injury woes.
Bad News for Couturier Timeline
Sean Couturier suffered a setback in his rehab process after skating regularly in recent weeks. Tortorella spoke after Thursday’s practice about the status of the former Selke Trophy winner. “He’s just not ready to skate right now. That’s a ways, that’s a ways away,” Tortorella said. The Flyers shouldn’t count on contributions from a healthy Couturier playing at the height of his game at any point in 2022-23.
Conflicting information about Couturier’s back injury has swirled since the days leading up to Flyers training camp. Elliotte Friedman of SportsNet spoke on Wednesday about how some sources had told him that Couturier would likely miss the entire 2022-23 season while others told him the 11-year veteran would only take the first few weeks of the season to recover. The murky understanding and the lingering nature of back injuries make for a bad situation with a player under contract in Philadelphia through the 2029-30 season.
The Flyers had persistent problems in 2021-22 with players aggravating injuries by returning too soon. Ryan Ellis, Joel Farabee, and Derick Brassard all missed additional time because of mismanaged injury timelines. The organization made changes to their medical staff during the offseason, but the timeline of Couturier’s rehab and recent setback certainly doesn’t indicate an effective approach.
Flyers Claim Bellows, Trade for Barratt
The Flyers fortified their depleted lineup by claiming Kieffer Bellows off waivers from the New York Islanders. The left winger has struggled to find his footing in the NHL after the Islanders selected him with the 19th-overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. He scored six goals and added 13 assists in 45 NHL games last season, all career highs. The idea of a low-risk, potential high-reward move for a former first-round talent makes sense for Philadelphia, but it also indicates a bleak injury situation.
General manager Chuck Fletcher also dealt American Hockey League (AHL) defenseman Cooper Zech to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for 23-year-old forward Evan Barratt on Wednesday. Barratt grew up in Brisol, PA and played junior hockey locally for Team Comcast as a teenager. He spent three seasons at Penn State from 2017-18 through 2019-20. He was a nominee for the Hobey Baker Award for the Nittany Lions in 2019. Neither Zech nor Barratt has ever appeared in an NHL game.
Hayes, Konecny Benched
Tortorella came to Philadelphia with a reputation as a demanding coach who didn’t tiptoe around the feelings of veteran NHL players with successful track records. He proved it when he sat Travis Konecny and Kevin Hayes for the third period of a 3-0 loss to the San Jose Sharks on Sunday night. The first-year Flyers head coach said after the game that he would keep his rationale within the room.
Konecny spoke about the standard that Tortorellsa has put in place for earning ice time.
“He’s (Tortorella has) been honest about that since day one of camp. Doesn’t matter who you are, you’ve got to play the right way. If we weren’t doing the right things tonight, and I know I was out there for two goals, I had some mistakes tonight. It’s his decision,” he said on Sunday.
Konecny and Hayes responded emphatically with two assists apiece on Thursday night against the Florida Panthers. Scott Laughton was the only Flyers forward who logged more ice time than two players who entered the game in the dog house. Tortorella, however, gave the same treatment to two younger players on Thursday. Morgan Frost played just 7:43, and Wade Allison played just 5:09. The two-time Jack Adams winner said that he felt the need to lean on his veteran players because some of the young players looked “overwhelmed” early in the game.
Injury Updates, Ristolainen Debut
The most surprising injury news of the week was about Atkinson. The former Columbus Blue Jackets winger has missed the first seven games of the season with an upper-body injury that has lingered and apparently worsened. He left practice early the day before the season opener, and he did not travel on Philadelphia’s recent three-game road trip. The organization remains mum on the nature of the injury.
James van Riemsdyk will undergo surgery on Friday after fracturing his finger against the Sharks. The only specification given was that he won’t miss the rest of the 2022-23 season. Even if the 33-year-old isn’t the offensive threat he used to be, a lineup without much proven veteran scoring is now thinner.
The Flyers got two key reinforcements back in the lineup on Thursday night. Rasmus Ristolainen played 14:06 and laid a bone-crushing hit on Patric Hornqvist that landed him in the penalty box for a questionable interference call. Owen Tippett returned after leaving the season opener in the first period with an upper-body injury. Bill Meltzer speculated that the injury was most likely a concussion. The 23-year-old figures to be a key cog in an upstart power play.
The Flyers will stay in Philadelphia for a Saturday night matchup against Rod Brind’Amour and the Carolina Hurricanes before a two-game road trip next week. They’ll travel to Madison Square Garden to face the New York Rangers on Tuesday and cross the border for a tilt with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday. They’ll be heavy underdogs in all three games against teams considered legitimate Stanley Cup contenders entering 2022-23.