With his team struggling to generate scoring chances and averaging just two goals per game in the series, Flyers coach Dave Hakstol is changing three of his lines for Wednesday’s critical playoff game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Hakstol said he wanted to have a “fresh look” after Sunday’s 5-1 drubbing in Game 3.
But the “look” he had early in Tuesday’s morning practice might change because of an injury sustained to Sean Couturier, the Flyers’ top-line center.
During drills, Couturier was involved in a violent, open-ice collision with teammate Radko Gudas. Couturier had to be helped off the ice by trainer Jim McCrossin, and he limped badly as he walked to the dressing room.
The Flyers said they would not have a medical update until Wednesday, an ominous sign.
#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
The Penguins lead the best-of-seven quarterfinals, two games to one, and if the Flyers don’t win Game 4 at the Wells Fargo Center, it will probably be a short series.
That’s why Hakstol made several lineup changes.
Second-line left winger Oskar Lindblom, who has struggled offensively, will be taken out of the lineup Wednesday. Jordan Weal will make his first appearance in the series, playing right wing on the third line. Weal had four points against the Penguins in the regular season, tying for the team lead.
In other moves, right winger Jake Voracek will go from the second line to the top unit; right winger Wayne Simmonds and left winger Travis Konecny will shift from the third line to the second line and will have Nolan Patrick as their center instead of Val Filppula; and Michael Raffl, who had been the right wing on the first line, will drop to left wing on the third line.
“It can bring an extra spark,” Simmonds said, hopefully, after Tuesday’s practice in Voorhees. “Obviously, we didn’t play at our best in the first three games, so the coach is saying something. He changed the lines and he expects more out of us. We’ve got to bring it.”
Whatever the lines, “we have to play with confidence,” said captain Claude Giroux, subdued and mindful that the Penguins make that difficult. “When we play with confidence, we can be a better team and we make more plays. We’ve got to be smart against these guys. We know that. We know the crowd’s going to be ready in Game 4 and we will, too.”
Couturier, if available, will center Giroux and Voracek on the top line. The trio was productive in the first 26 games but was broken up after the Flyers dropped 10 straight (0-5-5).
Voracek has had some occasional shifts on that line throughout the season.
“Whenever we got a shift together, it’s like we haven’t missed a beat,” Giroux said. “He’s a fun player to play with.”
For the first time this season, Patrick will center Travis Konecny and Simmonds on the second unit. (Patrick will probably go to the top line if Couturier can’t play, which would cause other changes.)
Simmonds has played alongside Patrick in 33 games this season.
“I thought we played well together, give-and-go plays and things like that,” said Simmonds, who has just one goal in his last 12 games, including nine in the regular season.
Weal will be the right wing on the third line, which will include left winger Raffl and center Val Filppula.
“I’m playing with some good players and some hard workers,” Weal said. “Just have to treat it like any other day. Same uniform, same ice out there. I think if we get back to that mentality as a team, it’ll be good.”
Weal said the Flyers need to spend more time in the Penguins’ end.
“When we work hard and get pucks deep and play below their goal line and get cycle shifts going, I think that has a lot of success for our team,” he said. “We just have to get back to that and turn this thing around.”
The Penguins, who will be missing high-scoring right winger Patric Hornqvist (lower-body injury) on Wednesday, have outscored the Flyers in the series, 13-6, and 33-17 if you add the regular season into the equation. Their top line, centered by Sidney Crosby, has dominated the Flyers in the regular season and playoffs.
“We have to take care of the puck a little more and we can’t be scared of making plays,” Giroux said. “Sometimes you start playing too safe and it gets you in trouble.”
Ivan Provorov, who anchors the Flyers’ defense and spends lots of time matched against Crosby, was asked how his team can do a better job containing the Penguins’ captain. Crosby has more career regular-season goals against the Flyers than any other team.
“Just don’t give him time and space,” Provorov said. “It’s not like he’s single-handedly defeated us. We just have to play hard and take care of the puck. If we do that, we’ll be fine.”
Crosby was blanked in Game 2, a 5-1 Flyers win. He has a total of seven points (four goals, three assists) in the other two games in the series – 7-0 and 5-1 victories by the Penguins.