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Couturier searching for himself in smaller role, not losing sight of big picture

Couturier searching for himself in smaller role, not losing sight of big picture originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

VOORHEES, N.J. — For Sean Couturier, playing less beats not playing at all.

That frame of mind has helped him adjust to a shrunken role as the Flyers try to nail down a surprise playoff berth.

Before this season, he had been out of game action for almost 22 months because of two back surgeries. And the Flyers haven't been in a postseason race since before COVID-19.

"You want to be playing these games that mean something, it's been a while," Couturier said Thursday morning before the Flyers host the Maple Leafs (7:30 p.m. ET/ESPN+, Hulu). "I'm just happy to be in that situation. If I look back to the last two years, I've come a long ways from where I'm at today. Even if I'm going through a tough time, it could be worse. I'm just trying to stay positive and help in any way I can."

A first-line center rich with do-it-all pedigree has played 14:39 minutes in the Flyers' last 12 games. He has two assists and a minus-12 mark over that span.

All very unlike Couturier numbers.

Prior to this stretch, the 31-year-old was playing 19:44 minutes per game, had 33 points (11 goals, 22 assists) and a plus-7 rating in 50 games. It was all-situation minutes for a player who had not played since December 2021.

At the end of February, head coach John Tortorella said the scaling back of Couturier's usage was not for the purpose of monitoring his minutes.

"We had a conversation a couple of games ago I would say, but it is what it is," Couturier said. "He's the coach, he gets to kind of feel what works and what doesn't. Right now, we're finding ways to win, so that's all that matters really."

The effectiveness of the Noah Cates-Ryan Poehling-Garnet Hathaway line has taken away from the captain's minutes.

"It has been a bit of a tough stretch for him I would say," Flyers associate coach Brad Shaw said. "His strength is how smart he is on the ice, he's incredibly smart positionally and with the puck. I think, for whatever reason, it has been a bit of a struggle for him in those areas or in other areas.

"We felt that maybe we've had better options. I really think the rise of the Ryan Poehling line lately has really sort of shuffled the deck a little bit with us. Sometimes you end up on the short end of that stick. He's a proud guy, I know that his game will resurface and he'll put the necessary effort, work, all that, the preparation, to get back to where he wants to."

Couturier admitted it has been an adjustment.

"Definitely," he said. "It's different, especially if you get less opportunities and stuff. It's just being patient, being a good teammate and when I get the chance, just capitalize on it. I've just got to be patient, keep playing hard. I think my game's getting better the last couple of games, obviously playing less, but just got to be patient and eventually maybe an opportunity will come. It's all about winning at this time of the year and we're doing that, so that's all that matters."

To get a sense of the adjustment, consider this:

Couturier has played under 13 minutes three times over the last 12 games. Over his previous six seasons, he had never played under 13 minutes in a full game.

"I think I'm looking for myself a little bit," Couturier said. "I'm not playing as much as I used to, so it's different. But I'm just trying to stay positive and do what I can to help the team down the stretch here."

The Flyers' coaching staff has appreciated how Couturier has handled the situation like a pro. The club has a young roster and players watch him.

"I know Torts talks about the locker room here a lot and how great it is, he's a big part of that, huge part of that," Shaw said. "He's an example sort of guy from the professional side of things and you can't have enough of those guys in the locker room. I think it really helps our young guys see how he handles this, how he works through it. Those are all real valuable lessons."

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