No need to wonder if Scott Laughton can handle that first-line assignment for the Flyers should Sean Couturier be unable to play in Thursday’s Game 6.
Laughton already proved in admirable fashion how he’s capable of filling in for Philadelphia’s top pivot man when he scored the overtime goal to cap Tuesday night’s 4-3 win over the Islanders.
Earlier, he set up James van Riemsdyk’s first goal of the playoffs to give the Flyers a 2-1 lead late in the second period.
Flyers coach Alain Vigneault did not skate his players on Wednesday and declined to offer any medical updates on Couturier, who was injured in an open-ice collision with New York’s Matthew Barzal toward the end of the second period.
Laughton says he’s ready to take on his new assignment if necessary.
If Couturier does not play, Laughton shouldn’t have any problem fitting in with Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek on the Flyers’ showcase unit.
“I don’t think it changes much,’’ Laughton said on a Zoom call from Toronto on Wednesday. “I have to play the same way. I was playing with JVR (van Riemsdyk) and ‘TK’ (Travis Konecny), two highly skilled players. I just try and skate and create space for these guys, try to get to the front of the net. At the same time, I have to be good in my own zone, picking up guys late and things like that.’’
The question then becomes, would Laughton center the line or would Giroux move back to the middle, where he’s spent much of his illustrious NHL career?
“I think a lot goes into your lineup decisions,’’ Vigneault said. “I think it’s easy to assume, when people are watching the game and seeing the physicality that’s going on throughout all of the series, that people aren’t a hundred percent.
“Tomorrow morning I’m going to get an in-depth analysis of where our players are physically. From there, our coaching staff will make the best possible decisions on who can give us the best game and gives us the best lineup possible.’’
Regardless of who plays where, Laughton’s style seems to fit in with Giroux and Voracek.
“I’ve been around these guys for a bit of time now,’’ Laughton said. “I’ve watched the way they’ve played for the last six or seven years, so I know what they’re trying to do.’’
There are things Couturier, a Selke Trophy finalist (NHL best defensive forward) does that will be hard to replace.
“ ‘Coots’ is an elite player, one of the best centers on our team,’’ Kevin Hayes said. “We have some players who haven’t played in this series who can play really well. It’s ‘up-next’ mentality. Whoever is coming in is going to be trying their hardest, give their best effort and that’s all we can ask for.’’
Added Laughton: “He (Couturier) does everything. First power play, first penalty kill, takes a lot of big draws for us. Obviously you’re not going to fill the shoes of a player like that. I think you have to do it by committee to try to make up for it. He’s a leader for us, he brings a lot to our team. He does everything right.’’
Barzal also was injured in Tuesday night’s game when he was clipped in the side of the head by a Giroux high stick, the product of a follow-through which did not result in a penalty.
Islanders coach Barry Trotz said he had “no concerns’’ about Barzal’s availability, so it’s a good bet he will be in the lineup for Game 6.
The Islanders appeared to have the Flyers somewhat frustrated in Games 3 and 4. Now some of that feeling might be going away.
“I think just a couple opportunities that (started) going the other way,’’ Laughton said. “We were hitting posts, couple tips were going wide, things like that.
“So I think you get frustrated because you’re working so hard to try to get results and they’re not showing.’’
At least they started showing late in Game 5 or there might be a different discussion going on right now.