NEWARK, N.J. – For the average player who had missed a season and a half due to a pair of back surgeries, it probably would have taken quite some time to shake off the rust.
Sean Couturier? He only needed a couple of shifts.
Couturier looked pretty much like his old self in the Flyers’ preseason opening 6-0 loss at New Jersey on Monday night.
Head coach John Tortorella had put his players through some rather demanding skating sessions over the weekend and it showed.
The Flyers surrendered four of the first six goals they allowed in the first six minutes and the game at the Prudential Center was pretty much decided at that point.
But the score really didn’t mean much to the Flyers, who were keeping a sharp eye on Couturier to see how he would handle his first game in quite some time.
Couturier said he made it through with little concern.
“It felt all right,” he said. “I thought I was physical at times. It felt good. I have to build on that. I have to execute a little better.”
It goes without saying the Flyers need a healthy Couturier back in the lineup. He works the power play, the penalty kill, crucial faceoffs and last-minute/close-game situations.
“My legs felt good. I just have to make some plays and actually execute,” Couturier said.
It didn’t take long for Couturier to test out the strength and durability of his reconstructed back.
“I wanted to test it out,” he said with a laugh. “I got it deep and made a run and see how it felt. I felt a couple times I used my body in battles. Just have to be a little stronger and win more battles. That will come.”
Couturier admitted his timing was off a bit.
“I think as a team we were off tonight,” he said. “We weren’t good on the forecheck.”
As for the Flyers’ low energy level as a team, chalk that up to the aforementioned demanding skate sessions.
“We were all off, we had a lot of skating in the last couple days,” Couturier said. “A really tough start to the camp. It’s not an excuse but we haven’t done many systems, also. All that put together, you know, ‘Torts’ (Tortorella) wants to see us battle through all that grind and fatigure and see how guys respond.”
He added, “The body felt good. Just got to build on it. Mentally after that first shift I felt a lot more fresh and clear-minded.”
Phantoms coach Ian Laperriere worked the Flyers’ bench and was impressed by Couturier’s persistence.
“He’s been through a lot in the last two years,” Laperriere said. “For him to go through a game with no issues, I thought he looked pretty strong. That’s a pretty big positive.
“Sean is the best player in the organization. It (Monday night) was a great test for him. He looked fine. Last (penalty) kill in the third, I put him out there, he looked strong. I’m sure he’s happy about it. It’s been a long two years. It’s a step forward in the right direction.”
If some of the Flyers’ “bubble” candidates were trying to make a good first impression, it didn’t show in the first six minutes of the game as the Devils raced to a 4-0 lead.
The Devils needed just 1:08 to take a 1-0 lead with Ondrej Palat sending a shot past goaltender Cal Petersen, seeing his first action in a Flyers uniform.
Erik Haula made it 2-0 at 3:14 as the Flyers’ defense got caught running around a bit. At 4:24, Tyce Thompson scored for the Devils and then Alexander Holtz completed the offensive burst with another goal at 5:50.
Timo Meier scored at 2:01 of the second period while the Flyers were shorthanded to run the count to 5-0.
Cam Atkinson was scheduled to play in this game but was a late scratch. Atkinson was hoping to see action for the first time in over a year (back surgery) but after a morning skate, he wasn’t quite ready to meet the task. Flyers GM Daniel Briere: “He is a little sore and we didn’t want to take the chance. It’s lower body. Nothing related to his last year injury.”
The Flyers have Tuesday off from training camp, then head to New York to play the Islanders on Wednesday night at the UBS Arena. Their last road game of the preseason will be at Boston on Friday night.