SAN JOSE, Calif. — Sean Couturier realized about halfway through the Philadelphia Flyers’ off-day practice on Monday at SAP Center in San Jose that he’d be good to go for the game the next night against the Sharks. After missing a pair of games with a lower-body injury due to his getting banged up against Buffalo last Wednesday, Couturier seemed thankful that this absence was a brief one, unlike some of the other injuries he’s dealt with in the past.
“The last couple days really helped me recharge the battery, and feels good to go,” he said on Tuesday morning.
His return meant someone had to come out of the lineup, of course. That someone was Morgan Frost, who ended up as a healthy scratch for the seventh time in 13 games this season. Frost’s return from a six-game stretch in which he was a spectator lasted all of four games in the active lineup. Four scoreless games, that is, as he’s still looking for his first point of the season in six games altogether.
Coach John Tortorella was asked after the Flyers dropped a 2-1 decision to the Sharks — giving San Jose its first win of the season in 12 tries — if it was tough to take Frost out of the lineup to make room for the former Selke Trophy winner.
“No,” he simply said, without elaborating.
Whether that was the right decision is debatable. The Flyers outshot the Sharks for the game, 39-19, and dominated territorially, particularly late, as they were pushing hard for the equalizer in the third period.
At the same time, they didn’t exactly have an abundance of high-quality chances against a team that had given up an incredible 20 goals combined in its last two games. In fact, high-danger chances were 11 apiece in all situations, according to Natural Stat Trick. And the power play remained awful, now 0-for-18 in the last five games.
For a Flyers team that has been rightfully lauded for playing with fire and energy most nights even if the results haven’t always been there, a loss to the Sharks is a step backward, no matter how it transpired. No team wanted to be the first to lose to a club that could end up as one of the worst the league has seen in decades, and the Flyers now have that distinction.
And, all of a sudden, the Flyers (5-7-1) have now lost five of their last six games, all in regulation.
Was this a tougher loss to swallow, considering how awful the Sharks have looked so far?
“I don’t know. It is what it is. It’s not like they were going to go 0-82,” Couturier said. “It sucks that we couldn’t get out of here with two points.”
Joel Farabee, the Flyers’ lone goal scorer, said: “I think that whole third period they were kind of just holding on. We just couldn’t get that bounce. Felt like we had our chances. Their goalie (Mackenzie Blackwood) played well, so credit to him, but it felt like we were looking for that one bounce and just couldn’t get it.”
One of those players still waiting for a bounce is Tyson Foerster. The rookie and 2020 first-round draft pick is still stuck on zero goals through 13 games, despite more chances to bury one on Tuesday night.
Foerster ripped a shot on net from the top of the circle on a Flyers power play midway through the first period that was gloved and frozen by Blackwood. Less than two minutes later he had another good look from the high slot, his best of the night, but Blackwood got that one with his pad.
About nine minutes into the third period with the Flyers down 2-1, Foerster found himself in front of the net for yet another opportunity that was denied by the Sharks goalie. He was credited with four shots for the game, and now has 25 for the season in 12 games.
Foerster’s frustration has been painted across his face at various times recently. Against the L.A. Kings on Saturday in the Flyers’ 5-0 loss at Wells Fargo Center, for example, the young winger couldn’t quite squeeze a pass to the front of the net from Scott Laughton through Cam Talbot in the closing seconds of the first period. Had he, it might have changed the game, as the Flyers were down just 2-0 at the time.
“(Laughton) threw it over to me and I kind of tried to jam it through his five hole, and somehow it didn’t go in the net,” Foerster said. He called the look on his face afterward “just disbelief.”
At the same time, Foerster’s remaining in the lineup over a guy like Frost — who could potentially play the wing — is a vote of confidence from the coaching staff. He’s even spent some time in practice the past couple days setting up as the net-front guy on the power play, something he hasn’t done since the 2022 World Junior Championship. However, that wasn’t where he ended up for any of the Flyers’ four failed advantages on Tuesday night.
“It’s obviously tough not scoring but I think I’m doing other things right,” Foerster said on Tuesday morning. “That’s what (the coaches have) been saying. They say it’s going to come.”
“I’m still in the lineup, so obviously I’m doing something kind of right. Just hopefully I can get one, and hopefully they all start coming.”
Tortorella, too, is hopeful that once Foerster gets one, it will free him up a little bit mentally.
“Hopefully something will bounce off him. You get something to bounce off of you, and you feel good,” he said. “You can see his frustration. I think he’s showed it a little bit on the ice after he’s missed some chances. … They’re just not going for him. Hopefully, something ugly happens for him.”
There was some ugly on Tuesday night in San Jose, alright. It wasn’t the kind of ugly they were hoping for.
“We knew (the Sharks were) going to be desperate,” Tortorella said, “we couldn’t find a way to finish.”
(Photo of Tyson Foerster battling for the puck against San Jose’s William Eklund: Robert Edwards / USA Today)