To climb to the next level, the Philadelphia Flyers must get off to a quick start and build off that momentum — and avoid what happened to them in a shortened season eight years ago.
That’s the assessment of veteran center Sean Couturier, and since he is the team’s reigning two-time MVP (Bobby Clarke Trophy winner) and one of its most insightful players, his opinion should carry a lot of clout.
“First of all, we need to get off to a good start, especially with a shortened season,” Couturier, who won his first Selke Trophy as the league’s best defensive forward last season, said in a Webex call with reporters Monday. “I had gone through it in the lockout year. We had a good team, but we just got off to a poor start and couldn’t make up ground in time to make the playoffs. Once you’re in the playoffs, anything can happen. That’s another part of our game where we’ll have to take another step as the year goes on.”
Couturier was referring to the 2012-13 lockout-delayed season, when the Flyers went 23-22-3 in a 48-game campaign and missed the playoffs after a 2-6 start. That was the season coach Peter Laviolette used goalie Ilya Bryzgalov in 22 straight games because he didn’t have a reliable backup.
In the pandemic-shortened 2021 season, teams will play 56-game schedules starting Jan. 13, when the Flyers host the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“If you come out of the gates with a poor start after 10, 15 games, there’s not many games to catch up,” said Couturier, who is preparing for his 10th NHL season.
Because the team made few offseason changes and has the same returning coaching staff, it should enable the condensed training camp — on-ice sessions will run Jan. 4-12 — to run smoother, Couturier said.
Winning a playoff round last season will also help, especially for the young players who saw what it takes to move on, Couturier said.
Couturier, 28, said playing home games at the Wells Fargo Center, instead of a “bubble” like they did in the postseason, will enable players to get on a “somewhat more normal schedule.”
It will also enable him to spend time with his infant daughter, Ella, who was born July 23, three days before the Flyers headed to their Eastern Conference hub city, Toronto.
“It’ll be a lot better for me and the guys with families,” he said.
The Flyers will play their seven East Division rivals eight times apiece.
“Every game is more important because you’re playing within your division and you’re playing for the same playoff spot every night, basically. There’s probably more value to each game,” he said. “It’s going to be a little bit different, but like I said, it’s going to be important to get off to a good start. ... It’s going to be interesting. It’s going to be fun. There’s going to be some rivalries that will build up.”
Couturier said center Nolan Patrick, who missed last season with a migraine disorder, has been skating well and “looks good” in informal sessions in Voorhees. “We’re excited to have him back and he could be a big asset for us this year.”
Camp opens with medical and fitness testing Sunday.
Couturier called defenseman Erik Gustafsson a “great addition” but said the Flyers would miss Matt Niskanen’s leadership and veteran play. ... There was a positive side to the COVID-19 restrictions: Couturier said he was able to spend a lot of time at home with his family. “I took advantage of that,” he said, “and now I’m excited to get back here and get back to work.” ... Couturier said defenseman Phil Myers was around 180 pounds when he first met him five years ago. And now? “He’s a monster — 6-4, 6-5 and 220. He’s grown into becoming a man, and he skates well and has a good shot. I think with the year of experience, he’s just going to get better and better and he’s got all the tools to become a pretty special D-man in this league” down the road. ... Myers, who turns 24 on Jan. 25, is among the candidates to play on the top pairing with Ivan Provorov.