Divisional importance of outdoor game will keep Flyers focused

Sean Couturier

      VOORHEES, N.J. – Sean Couturier is about to play in his fifth outdoor NHL game but he says these memories-of-childhood experiences never get old.

      When the Flyers take to the ice on Saturday night to face the Devils at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey for the Stadium Series event, there promises to be a lot of smiling faces.

      At least in warm-ups.

      After that, says Couturier, it’s going to be getting down to business because this is a Metropolitan Division game and the Devils are the closest pursuers of the third-place Flyers.

      “There’s more at stake, the standings are tight,” Couturier said after Wednesday’s practice at the Flyers Training Center. “This is a big game for us in the standings. It might be a little easier on the road. I feel at home, there are more things away from the game you need to do or promote. I think on the road we can just go there and get the job done.”

      The records would back up Couturier’s claim, at least for this season. So far, the Flyers are 15-7-4 on the road and just 14-12-2 at home.

      Playing under the stars and getting paid a lot of money to do it is enough to make any NHL player pinch himself.

      “It’s a cool experience for sure,” Couturier said. “You try to treat it like another game. But at the end of the day, there are two points on the line.

      “You have to just try to stay focused on what we’re there for. It’s  a really unique game. For some guys it’s their first time. This brings back some memories from when you were a kid playing on the pond outdoors.”

      So many things are different than indoor hockey. Instead of 20,000 fans it will be more like 80,000 on Saturday night.

      “The fans (in the outdoor stadium seats) are so far away,” Couturier pointed out. “The atmosphere’s not quite the same.”

      There could be a snowflake or three in the forecast, although not enough to threaten the game. If the white stuff is falling, it will only enhance those childhood memories.

      “There’s maybe a little more at stake here,” Couturier said with a chuckle. “We can’t let that bother us.”

      Couturier, born in Arizona but raised in the Canadian province of New Brunswick, said he remembers some rather frigid days growing up in the northern climate.

      “I definitely played a lot of outdoor hockey,” he said. “We used to have days where they shut the school down because it was too cold and I was crazy enough to go play outside. Those were fun days.”

      Travis Sanheim played in the Lake Tahoe outdoor game on Feb. 21, 2022 (no fans due to the pandemic) and so he has a sense of what to expect on Saturday.

      “This (MetLife) will be a little different element for me, getting on the road,” he said. “Hopefully there’s a lot of Flyers fans there as well. It’s always an exciting experience. I think more so this year because it’s a really meaningful game, a big two points.”

      If there’s a bit of a circus-like atmosphere prior to the game, so be it.

      “Yeah, the warm-ups and everything leading up to it,” Sanheim said. “Once the puck drops, it’s just like any other game.

      “The young guys, it’s going to be a new experience for them. But like ‘Coots’ said, it’s a really important game. Once the game starts, the focus is going to be on winning it.”

      The possibility of snow should not be a distraction.

      “Both teams are playing on the same ice surface,” Sanheim pointed out. “You can’t really look at it that way. Both teams are going to have to deal with the elements. We had to deal with it at the Linc (in 2019, vs. Pittsburgh) when it was raining. So we’ve been through it before. It won’t be anything new to us.”

      >Ristolainen still sidelined awhile

      While Tyson Foerster (lower-body injury) is still sidelined and might not be available for Thursday night’s game at Toronto or the New Jersey game, the news on defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen’s upper-body injury might be even less promising.

      According to general manager Daniel Briere, Ristolainen “is being checked. No timetable at the moment.”

      If Ristolainen is out for an appreciable amount of time, at least the Flyers have enough depth to get by. They’ve been carrying eight backliners. Veteran Marc Staal stepped into that spot in Monday night’s 5-3 win over Arizona.

      “He (Ristolainen) has played well,” coach John Tortorella said. “We have eight ‘D.’ It gives other guys opportunities. We just go about it. Injuries are part of it.”

      >Short shots

      Forward Owen Tippett and defenseman Jamie Drysdale were off for a maintenance day on Wednesday. Foerster did not skate either. “I miss him (Foerster) on the bench,” Tortorella said. “I can’t worry about when injuries come and go. It’s out of our control. I certainly miss him on the bench. He’s probably one of our strongest defensive players (plus-3) and probably the strongest with his stick.”. . .Thursday night’s game at Toronto is the first time the Flyers will have played the Maple Leafs this season. The only other team they haven’t played, the Chicago Blackhawks, will be on the schedule next Wednesday.

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About Wayne Fish 2472 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.