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Leafs expect fired up Flyers after 'shocking' scratch of Couturier

Toronto Maple Leafs Austin Matthews - The Canadian Press

The Maple Leafs held an optional skate at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on Tuesday. 


A little more than one month after being named Flyers captain, Sean Couturier will be a healthy scratch on Tuesday night. 

"I feel like I've been putting the work in for a while," the 31-year-old centre told reporters after Philadelphia's optional skate. "I know I've been struggling, trying to work on my game, so definitely frustrated the way I've been treated lately, but it is what it is."

Couturier admitted the situation is "definitely" testing his patience. The 2020 Selke Trophy winner will miss the game against the Toronto Maple Leafs

"I got to leave my ego aside, I guess, and hopefully the team finds a way to get a win here tonight and I can get back into it soon," Couturier said. 

Couturier isn't sure what he needs to do to get back in the good graces of coach John Tortorella. 

"I've gotten the same answers as you guys," he said. "'Just need to see more.' Still looking to find out what that is, but I'm trying every game. It's not like I'm sitting around or doing nothing."

Tortorella didn't address the media on Tuesday morning, but did hint at this move during a news conference on Monday. 

"When people want more ice time in a team sport, they forget that there are other people that are playing too that might be playing better," the veteran bench boss told reporters. "Those are the decisions I have to make."

Couturier was demoted to the fourth line during Saturday's loss in Boston where he played a season-low 11 minutes and 10 seconds.  

Couturier has not scored in 14 games since being named captain on Feb. 14. He has just three assists and a minus-13 rating in that time, while Philadelphia has stumbled to a 5-7-2 record. 

"I don't care the name, the stature, veteran, especially this time of year," Tortorella said. "I don't care who you are, I'm going to [play] the guys that I think give you the best chance to win that particular game."

Couturier's production has tailed off since he missed a couple games with an injury in January. 

Tortorella, who is in his second season as Flyers coach, isn't concerned about losing Couturier. 

"I'll never worry about him as far as effort, as far as attitude," Tortorella said. "He is a pro. I have a tremendous respect for him, and I'm not worried about that. I need him to be better, that's all."

The Flyers lead the Washington Capitals, who have played one fewer game, by just one point in the race for the third and final automatic playoff spot out of the Metropolitan Division. The Detroit Red Wings, who are ninth in the Eastern Conference, sit just two points back. 

The Leafs were already anticipating a fired up Flyers team considering Toronto beat Philadelphia handily in their home rink less than a week ago. 

"I fully expect a response," said Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe. "We talked to our team about that here today. Obviously, something like scratching your captain, all those kind of things get your team's attention, so we'll certainly expect their best tonight." 

"I mean, it's shocking," said rookie winger Matthew Knies. "They're trying to send a message that they need to put together a good effort and make the playoffs ... It just makes us want to work harder and understand their push is going to be a lot." 

ContentId(1.2092276): 'It's shocking': Leafs expect big response as Flyers scratch their captain


The Leafs are hoping to replicate the recipe from last week's 6-2 win in Philadelphia. 

"We actually talked about it this morning," said defenceman Joel Edmundson. "We just limited their odd-man rushes. They're good off the rush and we just played as a five-man unit all over the ice and didn't give them any chances."  

"We played to our structure very well," said Knies. "We got out of our zone extremely well. We moved the puck from east to west behind their net a ton ... There was a lot of good things that came from that game." 

But Tortorella felt the scoreline flattered Toronto. 

"People look at the score, 6-2, and say, 'Holy s--t! What's going on?'" Tortorella told reporters last week. "I thought the first two periods, I don't think we had a lot of bad minutes. I'll put it this way: I think we had more good minutes than a lot of people think."

The Leafs had an edge in net. Ilya Samsonov stopped 26 of 28 shots. Samuel Ersson was pulled after allowing three goals on 12 shots in the first period. 

"I thought their goalie, he made some key saves for them, or it could've been a different game going into the third period," Tortorella said. 

The Flyers won the second period 1-0 and seemed to have momentum despite trailing 3-1. 

"I don't think we managed the game well after that with the two bang-to-bang goals," Tortorella said. "I thought our coverage just sucked."

Auston Matthews and William Nylander scored on point-blank chances early in the third period. 

"I don't like how we managed the third period," said Tortorella. "I think we give them things for free."

Samsonov and Ersson will both start again on Thursday. 


Pontus Holmberg, 24, will continue to play on Toronto's top line beside Matthews. What's the biggest challenge for a young player getting up to speed beside the NHL's goals leader? 

"It is just about being comfortable," Keefe said. "That is easier said than done. In Holmberg's case, it is not his first go-around with Auston. It should be easier this time around for him. It is really just about being comfortable and not changing your game. It is more doing the things that allow you to be in consideration for such a responsibility."

Knies, 21, has played most of the season beside Matthews. His advice? 

"Just playing hard, playing simple, you know, supporting him as much as possible," the Phoenix native said. "Talking. Not being afraid to use your voice to call for pucks or call plays. I think everyone's been doing it well."

Holmberg got a brief audition beside Matthews and Mitch Marner in January. He was elevated back to the top line beside Matthews and Tyler Bertuzzi after Calle Jarnkrok got hurt on Thursday. He made a nice play to set up a Matthews goal in the third period. 

"He has a good skill set that can help him adapt and play with anybody," said Keefe. "We like that about him. He is a versatile guy who we have used all around our lineup and in all three forward positions."

With righties Marner and Jarnkrok sidelined, Holmberg is being asked to play on his off wing. 

"You need to get a right winger and a guy with a skill set to make a play and hold onto the puck," said Keefe. "He is one of those guys for sure."

But it didn't go smoothly for Holmberg on Saturday against the Carolina Hurricanes and he was replaced by Bobby McMann for several shifts down the stretch. 

"Any time you play with those types of players, it's a little bit of a different game," said McMann, who is in his first full season in the NHL. "Like, you never know when the puck's going to come to you. You always got to be in either a shooting or passing position or be available. And you always want to work to get that guy the puck, because if you get it on his stick, it's probably hitting the back of the net."

ContentId(1.2092288): 'Easier said than done': Younger Leafs seek comfort beside Matthews


Even after adding Edmundson and Ilya Lyubushkin via trade, general manager Brad Treliving noted it would still have to be a "by committee" approach on the Leafs back end. 

"We got a little bit of everything," said Edmundson. "We got some offence. We got some size. We all play tough at the same time. It's been great so far and we have some guys sitting out that could be in the lineup, and you'll see that tonight."  

With Lyubushkin sick, Simon Benoit will draw in and pair with Jake McCabe

"As I am sure we will see tonight with Benoit coming in, we have other guys who are hungry, can push the group, and can help us respond to injury or illness as we are going to go through today," said Keefe. "Those are all healthy things for us."

Morgan Rielly, who had been playing with Lyubushkin, will reunite with T.J. Brodie, who had been playing with McCabe. Brodie will be pushed back to the right side. 

Edmundson will remain beside Timothy Liljegren.

"We like how the pieces have fit in," Keefe said. "We are without Lyubushkin tonight, but with him and Edmundson, it gives us far better depth. Since their arrival, we have essentially just been rolling the three pairings. We are not concerned about matchups or anything like that. We think each pair can take on any matchup or responsibility. We don't have to go chasing things. We think that is helpful."

Lyubushkin leads the Leafs with 28 hits in seven games since being acquired. At 6-foot-5, Edmundson becomes Toronto's tallest defender. 

"I like the size," said McMann. "I like the long sticks. I think we got guys who are really good with sticks and they're not afraid to be physical either. I think they're willing to put the body on the line and they're willing to step up, and that makes other teams aware too. You see a couple guys step up early in the game, it makes you think twice before just picking up the puck and skating with it, so that plants a little bit of a seed that guys have got to be aware." 

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Projected Leafs lineup for Tuesday's game in Philadelphia: 

Bertuzzi - Matthews - Holmberg
McMann - Domi - Nylander
Knies - Tavares - Robertson
Dewar - Kampf - Reaves

Rielly - Brodie
Benoit - McCabe
Edmundson - Liljegren

Samsonov starts