Philadelphia Flyers C Sean Couturier the Key Man in Playoffs

Philadelphia Flyers center Sean Couturier was probably their best 5v5 player this season, and he will be the key man against the Washington Capitals

Poor old Sean Couturier. When most hockey fans think of the Philadelphia Flyers, it obviously starts with team captain and perennial leading scorer Claude Giroux. From there, thoughts probably go to Steve Mason in net, who has been so good the last few seasons.

Third up, Jakub Voracek is probably the next most recognizable. He’s recently broken out as a star, and has a new $66 million contract to show for it. And then perhaps next on the list of notoriety is Wayne Simmonds. He’s a physical player, animated on the bench, and is now a 30-goal scorer.

Maybe now that we’re 5 players deep we get to Sean Couturier. Okay, maybe we’re probably skipping Shayne Gostisbehere, but that’s just rubbing it in. Certainly “hockey people” know all about the player Sean Couturier is, but there’s nothing about his game that grabs your attention.

For pretty much all of his still young career, Couturier was buried with extremely tough assignments. He was always assigned against the opposition’s tough player. It makes sense that not a lot of offense will come from such a position, but more is inevitably expected from a top-10 pick.

That side of his game is beginning to turn around. He tied a career high in points this year, despite missing almost 20 games. His game has continued to improve so much that some are beginning to make the case for Couturier and the Selke Trophy.

Leaving the Selke discussion for another day, Sean Couturier probably has been the Flyers’ best player at 5v5 this year. The numbers are hard to argue. Long saddled with difficult minutes, he’s seen slightly easier deployment this year, and he rewarded the Flyers by exceeding stars such as Voracek and Giroux in the possession game.

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Even more surprisingly, Couturier has outscored them at 5v5.

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Couturier doesn’t have the total point numbers of Voracek and Giroux, but that is because of the differences between the players on the power play. Voracek and Giroux lead the first unit, while Couturier toils on the second unit.

Entering the playoffs, Sean Couturier will become even more important to the Philadelphia Flyers. The Capitals are poised to roll out a top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and TJ Oshie, and it will be up to Sean Couturier to stop them.

The Flyers and Caps played 4 times this regular season, but Couturier missed 2 of those games. Incidentally, those were the only 2 of the 4 where the Caps used the above-mentioned first line against the Flyers.

In the 2 games Couturier did play against the Caps, he did very well against Ovechkin. Ovechkin was only 37% in possession against Couturier, but was 57% against all other Flyers. Also relevant to the matchup game from the regular season meetings was that Claude Giroux really struggled against Nicklas Backstrom, with possession at 38%.

If Sean Couturier can repeat his shutdown performances of Alex Ovechkin, while at the same time removing the burden of Giroux having to deal with Nicklas Backstrom, it would be a massive win for the Philadelphia Flyers in this series.

My money says this will be a tight, physical, low-scoring series. Furthermore, Backstrom and Ovechkin are top notch players, and they will not be shut down entirely by anyone. If, however, Couturier continues the level of play he showed in the regular season as the Flyers best 5v5 player, and can contain the Caps stacked top line while freeing Giroux and Voracek from a tough matchup, the Flyers might just have a chance against the top team in the NHL.