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Three options for the Flyers if Sean Couturier is out of the lineup for Game 6

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We hopefully won’t have to resort to this.

New York Islanders v Philadelphia Flyers - Game Five Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

It was yet another heart-stopping, chest-thumping, gritty-yet-thrilling overtime victory for the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night. In a moment of déjà vu, the Flyers troublingly surrendered a 3-1 lead in the third period, only to cut off the Islanders in the extra frame thanks nonetheless to big saves from Carter Hart and some good forechecking from the top three lines.

However, as we all know, a very important player was absent from the Flyers’ disastrous third period: Sean Couturier. It appears to be that his absence was due to a knee-on-knee collision with the Islanders’ Mathew Barzal. The collision appears to be completely innocuous on the part of Barzal, as in he in no was is looking to injure Couturier, however, regardless the loss of the Selke Trophy candidate, if he is indeed going to be out for Game 6, would be crushing for a team that needs him at the height of his prowess.

Regardless, the Flyers will need to prepare for their contest on Thursday, and if they’ll be without Couturier, the lineup will obviously need to change. While this is, in the end, speculation, I’ll be looking at some options that the Flyers have to fill the gap left in Couturier’s absence.

Moving Claude Giroux back to center

In the end, this is the most cautious option that the flyers could take, as it means they wouldn’t need to change their lines that won in Game 5 too drastically. If we know Alain Vigneault, he’ll likely be thinking “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” (with the obvious exception of Couturier).

Moving Giroux to center allows for he and Jake Voracek to continue to play together while not sacrificing how the line works stylistically. Together, their Corsi-For was a staggering 82.35% at 5-on-5, so it’s clear they’ve worked well together. You could also make the argument that stylistically, keeping Giroux at wing works better, and that is what the Flyers did as a temporary fix in Game 5, putting Scott Laughton at 1C. However, that felt more like a fix out of necessity. The Flyers clearly like Laughton in a depth role (albeit with the caveat that he can play in the top six if absolutely needed), and I think they’d like to keep him there.

Ergo, I think they’d prefer to draw in a winger to put in the bottom six and shift somebody new up to the top line. If Michael Raffl is healthy, he’ll be who returns to the lineup. Otherwise, I think it’s likely to be Connor Bunnaman playing in a fourth line role. That leaves the middle six a bit jumbled as somebody will end up filling in at 1LW. Logically speaking, I think it would most likely be Joel Farabee doing so, since he’s already playing LW on the Hayes line. Therefore the forward lines would look like this:

Farabee - Giroux - Voracek

van Riemsdyk - Hayes - Pitlick

Aube-Kubel - Laughton - Konecny

Grant - Thompson - Bunnaman

Assuming the Flyers will want to stick with Tyler Pitlick on the second line due to his strong performance in that role, James van Riemsdyk would slot in for Joel Farabee on the second line, with Bunnaman taking Aube-Kubel’s fourth line job as he replaces van Riemsdyk.

Bumping up Kevin Hayes to 1C

This is an option that keep Giroux at wing that isn’t simply the first option with the new player drawing in at center on the first line (or a scenario where Scott Laughton really does become the 1C). It also fits stylistically with Sean Couturier’s role on the top line.

Now, Kevin Hayes is a great hockey player, but he isn’t Sean Couturier. We all know that. Regardless, he plays a similarly two-way game and can effectively play the shutdown center role. You aren’t getting a one-for-one swap obviously, but it’s the next best thing that the Flyers can do. It also help that Hayes and Giroux have played on a line this season before. If I’m remembering correctly, Giroux-Hayes-Konecny was a line at the very start of the season.

Therefore, if this is what the Flyers have determined they will do, they’re banking on some of their chemistry returning. In 116:46 minutes of regular season ice time at 5-on-5, Kevin Hayes and Claude Giroux, when playing together, registered a Corsi-for of 51.64%, which isn’t exactly blowing out the competition, but they were able to effectively work together to keep possession and drive play.

So therefore, it would look like this:

Giroux - Hayes - Voracek

Farabee - Laughton - Pitlick

van Riemsdyk - Grant - Konecny

Aube-Kubel - Thompson - Bunnaman

In all honesty, I’d prefer the first option of moving Giroux to center, if anything because the bottom six scares me with this setup. Especially with the third line, I do not like the idea of moving Derek Grant back to 3C.

Frosty the Goal Man

Now this would be the nuclear option. If the Flyers are really wanting to keep most of their bottom nine chemistry in tact, this is the move you need to make. I believe Bill Matz said this on last nigjt’s postgame, but putting Frost at 1C or even swapping him in at 2C with Hayes going to 1C would be very spicy:

Giroux - Frost - Voracek

Farabee - Hayes - Pitlick

van Riemsdyk - Laughton - Konecny

Grant - Thompson - Aube-Kubel

In essence, if the Flyers pull Frost in at a bottom six role, I would rather him not be playing. Frost isn’t the player you want on the forecheck. He’s going to create offense, and what better way for him to do that on the top line where he could be sheltered by the likes of Giroux and Voracek. The downside is that you don’t get a shutdown guy at 1C, but is Couturier is out, you’re losing that anyway.

In the end what do I want most? Well for Couturier to be okay to play on Thursday. But if not, I’d prefer the first option, as it doesn’t sacrifice the bottom six. Regardless, with Couturier out, it’s going to be a very uphill battle for the Flyers, and to that end, the troops will need to be well prepared. I’m hoping that Alain Vigneault will look more like the Jack Adams candidate coach of the regular season in doing so than he has so far, but in the end, still it is up to the players. Let’s hope we see a similar effort to Game 5, without hopefully the need for overtime.

All stats courtesy of Natural Stat Trick