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'With John Tortorella, it doesn’t matter who it is': Flyers to scratch newly-named captain Couturier

Sean Couturier Sean Couturier - Getty Images

In need of a win to keep a cushion in place over the Washington Capitals, it appears the Philadelphia Flyers are making significant lineup changes for Tuesday's game against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The line of captain Sean Couturier, veteran Cam Atkinson and trade deadline addition Denis Gurianov was the last group of forwards on the ice during the team's gameday skate and may all be healthy scratches. 

Couturier, who is signed through 2029-30 at a cap hit of $7.75 million, confirmed after the skate he will be sitting, stating he had briefly spoken with head coach John Tortorella about the decision.

"Somewhat, but it doesn’t matter honestly what I think," Couturier said. "Just gotta leave my ego aside, I guess, and hopefully the team find a way to get a win here tonight, and I can get back into it soon."

General manager Daniel Briere said the decision falls in line with Tortorella's mantra of treating all player the same, regardless of their status.

"I can tell you one thing - with John Tortorella, it doesn’t matter who it is. That’s what he’s known for. He treats everybody the same way," Briere said.

The 31-year-old Couturier has 11 goals and 36 points in 64 games this season, but has contributed just one assist in his past nine games. Atkinson, 34, has 13 goals and 28 points in 63 games, but is without a point in his past 16 games. Gurianov is without a point in three games since joining the Flyers after being acquired from the Nashville Predators in a trade for Wade Allison

The three forwards worked as a together line in practice Monday, with head coach John Tortorella rejecting a question of whether Couturier, named captain only on Feb. 14 deserved more ice time.

"No, I think there are a number of players, him being one, that need to be better," Tortorella told reporters.

Tortorella would not commit to his team's lineup on Monday and did not speak to the media after Tuesday's skate.

Flyers' playoff spot in jeopardy

The Flyers enter Tuesday's game sitting one point ahead of the Capitals for third in the Metropolitan Division with one more game played. Should the Capitals manage to jump the Flyers, Philadelphia would join the crowded wild-card race, where the Detroit Red Wings are just two points back of them, with the New York Islanders, Buffalo Sabres, Pittsburgh Penguins and New Jersey Devils also lurking.

Philadelphia has lost two straight games, having suffered a narrow 6-5 defeat at the hands of the Boston Bruins on Saturday after an eventful third period that saw the two teams combine for seven goals. 

“We’ve got to be really careful with the moral victories here,” Tortorella said after the loss. “I appreciate how hard we worked and kept on playing. You‘ve got to be really careful, we‘ve got to find a way to get points.

"Certainly not enough guys going consistently. Important guys, consistently. So, move by it [and] get ready for Toronto.”

“It kind of is what it is, but we got to figure it out,” forward Morgan Frost added. “I think we keep putting ourselves in good position, and [we] just got to find that break late in the game to kind of seal it. And I’m going to keep saying, I thought we played a pretty good game, so it’s a tough one to swallow.”

The Flyers managed to largely keep pace against the Bruins after suffering a 6-2 loss to the Maple Leafs in their previous game. 

With season-opening starter Carter Hart no longer on the roster, the Flyers goaltending depth has been tested over the past two months with Samuel Ersson seeing the vast majority of starts.

The 24-year-old has a 19-14-5 record this season with a .898 save percentage and a 2.67 goals-against average in a career-high 39 games. He appeared in 12 games in his first NHL season last year.

Ersson will return to the net Tuesday for the first time since allowing three goals on 12 shots in just one period of work before being pulled against Toronto last week. 

Flyers Future Focus

Briere was steadfast prior to the trade deadline that despite their success, the Flyers focus remained on their rebuild. 

The most notable move the team made was trading defenceman Sean Walker to the Colorado Avalanche, getting a first-round pick back as part of the deal. 

“The culture is, we felt, the first thing that needed to change around here,” Briere said after the deadline while reflecting on his vison after taking over last spring. “I didn’t like how our team was playing the last few years. We were a team that was easy to play against and I think the first step in that change was John Tortorella [who] brought an identity to our team, [and] forced our players to play a certain way to make it tough to face.

“... I have to give our coaches and our players a lot of credit for the way they’ve played. I’ve said it many times, we didn’t expect to be where we are at this stage of the season. We hoped to play meaningful games, but to be inside that playoff bubble, third in our division, that’s probably above what we expected.

“So that’s even more exciting, it’s all coming together. But it doesn’t change at the end of the day what we’re trying to do with having an outlook towards the future, making sure that it’s sustainable for years to come and not just one year.”

After holding a playoff spot for most of the year, the Flyers appear set to battle for their postseason life over their final 14 games.