What can we say about Flyers forward Sean Couturier that hasn’t already been shouted from the mountains and written by some of the top scribes of the modern NHL? Should we bring up his point-per-game pace since he has been back in the lineup? Or maybe the fact that his Corsi For% is nearly 10 points higher than the average of the team? Honestly, we’ll get to all of that.
But the clearest endorsement of Sean Couturier and his importance to the Flyers can be found in his absence. Coming into the season, the Flyers looked to have one of the best rosters — on paper — they’ve iced in quite some time. Many believed the only thing standing between them and a terrific season, was a significant injury to a major player.
Well, that narrative was tested immediately as Couturier sustained a rib injury just moments into the second game of the season. I, like many fans, had immediate flashbacks to the 2016 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals matchup vs the Washington Capitals. In-game one of that series, Coots was injured by Ovechkin just minutes into the contest and the Flyers never overcame his loss.
Value in Absentia
Surprisingly, the Flyers fared much better with Coots out of the lineup this time — at least in the standings. The team rattled off a 5-3-2 record without Coots and managed to collect 12 key standings points that not only kept them afloat but propelled them to the top of the Mass Mutual East Division.
That being said, the Flyers probably didn’t deserve that record. Without Couturier, the team looked like an absolute mess on the ice. They were outshot in eight of the 10 matchups and sported a -90 overall shot differential.
The team was also a mess defensively, getting gauged for an average of 3.10 goals per game and struggled to create consistent offense. Sure, the team was also scoring at a near three-goal pace as well, but most of the scoring was coming off the rush, not from in-zone forechecking.
Had it not been for solid goaltending from Carter Hart and Brian Elliott, many of those games could have easily gone sideways.
When Couturier made his return to the lineup, the impact was immediate. Despite clearly feeling the effects of his injury and a long layoff, Coots tallied two goals and an assist in a wild matinee vs the Washington Capitals. The team also turned around offensively and the defense stabilized — somewhat.
In the 11 games following his return, the Flyers have outshot their opponents seven times. Not only that, but the team’s overall faceoff% has increased and they’re averaging nearly half a goal per game more than when Couturier was out. Each time Coots leaves the lineup, he takes the engine of the team with him.
Selke Caliber Season?
As the reigning Selke Trophy winner as the best two-way forward in the NHL, a lot was expected of Couturier this season. We’ve discussed how his impact was felt when he was out of the lineup, and how the team improved when he returned but has his on-ice play been worthy of the Selke name?
The answer is yes, with a slight caveat.
Couturier is picking up right where he left off last season. He has 16 points in 13 games and has recorded at least one point in all but two games this season. Three of his six goals have been game-winners and a staggering 13 of his 16 points have been scored at even-strength.
Couturier is also getting it done in his own zone. He remains one of the few Flyers that has actually had a strong defensive season thus far. His Corsi For% is a career-high 59% — 9.8 points higher relative to his teammates. He has also been a dynamo in the faceoff dot again, winning 54% of his draws.
All things considered, there’s truly no reason Couturier shouldn’t be in the conversation for Selke once again. However, Philadelphia’s struggles on special teams may hold him back.
The Flyers have been absolutely putrid on special teams this season. The power play has been ineffective with or without Couturier and the penalty kill is historically bad. Philly’s special teams units are 22nd and 26th in the league respectively and Sean Couturier hasn’t really done much to help improve them.
Sure, Coots is just one player, but he’s the team’s best player and you would expect him to help right the ship on both units. That simply hasn’t happened. Perhaps we expect too much of Couturier. We’ve been spoiled by his play the last few years, but maybe this Flyers team is even too flawed for him to cover up. Time will tell.
Sean Couturier has arguably been the best player for the Flyers this season — along with Joel Farabee and James van Riemsdyk — and remains the biggest reason the team’s “process” in games has looked better as of late.
We’re giving Coots an A- at the midway point. He’s doing basically everything you’d want him to do and he remains the most important overall piece to this Flyers lineup. However, the team’s impudence on special teams is holding him back a bit.
If they can course-correct both units by the end of the year, watch that minus turn into a plus.