Flyers energized for big divisional match-ups

Sean Couturier

       VOORHEES, N.J. – As weekends go, the upcoming one is about as big as it gets for the Flyers this season.

      The Rangers, winners of nine straight, hit town on Saturday afternoon. Then the Flyers head to Pittsburgh for a Sunday matinee against the Penguins.

      These are both Metropolitan Division games and mean a little bit more than a match against a Western Conference team in the middle of November.

      There seemed to be a little more pep in everyone’s step during Friday’s practice at the Flyers Training Center. A successful weekend would give the team some breathing room in the standings.

      The Flyers currently hold the third and final guaranteed playoff spot in the division with a seven-point lead over New Jersey, the Islanders and Washington going into Friday night action.

      Sean Couturier knows the Flyers will be up for these two crucial contests.

      “As the year has gone on, the energy has been better and better,” he said. “Everyone’s more excited. The games are starting to mean more and more. These are the kinds of games you want to play down the road.

      “Good for us that we put ourselves in this situation and fighting for a playoff spot. Now we just have to win some more games, especially these important ones.”

      It would be a fun thing to end the Rangers’ streak, too, although Captain Couturier would rather concentrate on the Flyers’ level of play.

      “I would rather focus on ourselves,” he said. “We know that when we play our way and we dictate the pace, we can play with any team. We’ve proven it all year. We’ve played some teams on some pretty good streaks, so I’m not too worried about how we’re going to come out.”

      Scott Laughton said the team is aware of the implications these games offer. The Flyers have only one game left outside the Eastern time zone so it’s going to be a lot of games like this the rest of the way.

      “It’s a big weekend and I think we kind of know what’s ahead of us in the next month or so,” Laughton said. “I know we have to be better at home (14-12-2). This will be a really good test for us. I saw a little bit of their game last night (a 5-1 win over the Devils) and the way they played. We have to stay out of the penalty box and not allow their top players to touch the puck.”

      Coach John Tortorella likes the way his team has prepared, especially with three good practices this week.

      He remembers how many Rangers fans showed up for the Black Friday game and cheered the Blueshirts to a 3-1 win.

      “I don’t calculate what’s going on out in the crowd during the game, I just can’t,” he said. “I’m just not aware of it. But I think surrounding our team, there’s a better attitude toward us. I want to get us to the place and we’re not there – to a place where it’s a tough building to come in and play. I think that’s one thing we have not totally grabbed ahold of this year, the home ice. I want the building to be that way. I want that to be a given. People are saying, ‘boy, that’s a building to go into.’ And the fans are a big part of that.”

      >Couturier tests neck guard

      Couturier became the fourth Flyers player to wear a neck guard when he wore one for Friday’s practice. Other Flyers already wearing the protective device include Cam Atkinson, Travis Konecny and Travis Sanheim.

      Couturier said he was just waiting for his neck device to arrive because there is a huge backlog of orders for the piece of equipment.

      “It’s a little different,” Couturier admitted, “but I’ll try to get used to it. We had some sample that were back ordered for awhile. I thought I would try them out today.”

      So far so good. Look for other players to experiment with this helpful mechanism in the near future.

      “I guess if it doesn’t bother you, why not wear it?” Couturier said. “It’s just another layer of protection. You never know what can happen. I’m just trying to stay as safe as possible out there.”

      The tragic death of hockey player Adam Johnson brought this issue to the forefront. He suffered a neck cut during a game over in Europe and died from the wound.

      “Everyone’s aware of the freak accident that happened this year,” Couturier said. “I think it kind of puts in the back of your mind that you might want to take that extra caution.”

      >Injury update

      Konecny suffered an undisclosed injury midway through the practice and Tortorella said he had no update on his leading scorer’s availability for Saturday’s game. . .Tyson Foerster took part in a full practice and said he only had one more test to pass to be ready for the Rangers game. . .Tortorella said defenseman Jamie Drysdale (lower-body injury) will play against the Rangers. Cam York, who is dealing with a slightly separated shoulder, also is expected to be in the lineup.

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About Wayne Fish 2426 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.