Sean Couturier

Why Flyers fans have reason for optimism

I’ve been on the fence about what to think of this Philadelphia Flyers team going all the way back to the offseason. There is reason to be encouraged by their roster, and there is at the same time every reason to have serious concerns about their roster.

Even now, with the team rapidly climbing the standings with eight wins in the past 11 games (including five in a row, and points in six in a row) those same feelings of confusion still exist. They are winning and collecting points — against very good teams! — but they are doing it while being completely dependent on overtime and shootouts.

Just as is the case with the St. Louis Blues and their recent hot streak (read about that here), there is an element of good fortune and luck to that sort of winning. You can’t keep relying on overtime and shootouts over an 82-game season if you want to be a playoff team and become a contender. But here’s the positive sign for the Flyers — from a big picture standpoint this season they are still exhibiting some signs that they might have some staying power. They might be a little lucky right now when it comes to their OT and shootout success, but there is also still reason to believe they have been a little unlucky to this point in pretty much every other area. At 5-on-5 play the Flyers have been one of the top-10 teams in a lot of key areas.

• Shot attempt share: 6th in NHL
• Expected goals share: 10th in NHL
• Scoring chance share: 5th in NHL
• High-danger scoring chance share: 9th in NHL

To be in the top-10 in all of those categories nearly a quarter of the way through the season is a pretty good sign and something a team can definitely build on. If a team is able to stay there, it is probably going to be a team one is a serious contender, especially if it gets even somewhat competent goaltending on top of it.

What should be encouraging for Flyers fans is they have played well this season, they have already collected a lot of points (they have the sixth best points percentage in the NHL), and you can make the argument that their four most important players — Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, and goalie Carter Hart — have probably underperformed to this point, at least relative to their expectations and previous track records.

The three forwards (Giroux, Voracek, and Couturier) are the most intriguing because all three have excellent underlying numbers and shot rates (especially Giroux and Couturier) but have not yet had it translate to the point totals we usually see from them. Giroux and Couturier have been especially dominant when it comes to driving possession, while both have seen increases in their individual shot rates. There is every reason to believe they have more to offer and that their production can — and should — increase.

Hart remains the key to this team, and he always has been. He is the latest goalie in a long line of goalies that was supposed to offer a real long-term solution to a consistently cursed position, and after an outstanding rookie season expectations were sky-high for him entering this year. But he did not get off to a great start (an .864 save percentage in October), and that more than anything contributed to the Flyers’ early losing. Since the calendar has rolled over to November, however, he has started to play like the goalie the Flyers hoped he could be. He has a chance to be a franchise-shifting player simply because of the position he plays and the importance it carries.

No one would blame you if you are still skeptical of this team.

The offseason moves were, in a word, strange, and the organization as a whole has settled into a state of consistent mediocrity over the better part of the past decade. They have also been burned by a revolving door of goalies that were supposed to solidify the position only to fail spectacularly in their own special ways.

But there is at least some kind of hope that this team might be able to be something decent this season based on what we have seen from them so far. If they can keep controlling play the way have over the first month-and-a-half, combined with Hart getting himself comfortable in net, there might be something to actually build on here.

Coverage of the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Flyers and Capitals begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Flyers’ Couturier pulled off ‘The Forsberg’ move in shootout

Philadelphia Flyers center Sean Couturier does just about everything well, hockey-wise. One of these years, you’d expect him to win a Selke.

But you don’t necessarily think of Couturier as a shootout wizard. Don’t get me wrong, he’s perfectly passable in that area, yet it was surprising to see him pull off the patented, stamp-worthy move of former Flyer Peter Forsberg to help Philly beat the New Jersey Devils 4-3 via that shootout.

You can watch Couturier’s version of “The Forsberg” in the video above this post’s headline.

It wasn’t the only notable goal from a fairly busy game, either, as Taylor Hall showed that he’s putting a great effort out there — even if the team results haven’t come through — by scoring a goal after being hit from behind:

That game also featured Kyle Palmieri sticking up for Jack Hughes after a big Matt Niskanen hit (with mixed results, but still), so yeah, fairly eventful for a random Friday game in November.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Flyers’ Giroux-Couturier duo is great, but they need help

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The Philadelphia Flyers may not have had much success as a team over the past few seasons but there have been two very important developments during that time.

The first is that Claude Giroux has re-emerged as one of the elite point producers in the league after a three-year decline. He has been so productive that since the start of the 2017-18 season only four players in the league (Nikita Kucherov, Connor McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon, and Sidney Crosby) have more total points than his 187.  Just looking at things strictly from an offensive perspective, this is the best two-year run of Giroux’s career.

The second big development is that Sean Couturier has gone from being a reliable, defensive-minded center to one of the most complete and best all-around players in the league, perfectly blending his shutdown defensive play to go with an emerging offensive game that has seen him produce consecutive 30-goal, 76-point seasons (only eight other players in the league matched that).

After finishing as the runner-up in the 2017-18 Selke Trophy voting, he finished sixth this past season and will enter this season as one of the favorites to win it.

[More: 2018-19 Review | Three Questions | Under Pressure | X-Factor]

When the Flyers put them together they can be as good as any other duo in the league.

It is when one (or both) is sitting on the bench that things unravel for the Flyers and the team gets its doors blown off. The table below shows what the Flyers’ shot attempt, scoring chance, high-danger scoring chance, and goal differentials when both are on the ice, one is on the ice, and when neither is on the ice. This is all during 5-on-5 play.

(Data via Natural Stat Trick)

With both, the Flyers are as good as any team in the league. Without one or both they become one of the worst teams in the league. That is the look of a team that has no depth beyond its top few players, and that is simply not good enough to win in the NHL.

This is where Kevin Hayes and Nolan Patrick become so vital to the Flyers’ chances.

The Giroux-Couturier pairing obviously works, but it has left the team dangerously thin the past couple of seasons. The team has been so thin that when the Flyers tried to split them up and play them on different lines it ended up doing nothing but holding them both back because there was not enough talent around them. They work at their best when they are together, and that is the way it should remain.

For the Flyers to have a chance this season they will need Hayes to be able to provide a capable second-line presence down the middle and prove he was worth that seven-year, $50 million price tag, and for Patrick to continue to evolve and help drive the third line after struggling to breakout in his second year as the second-line center.

Without both of those things happening (and without Carter Hart solidifying the goaltending spot) the Flyers will once again struggle no matter how great Giroux and Couturier are.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Couturier’s hat trick, Hart’s 39 saves help Flyers hold on against Bruins

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It’s not a sustainable winning formula — getting wildly outshot — but the Philadelphia Flyers will take wins any way they can get them these days.

It certainly helps when their players are scoring hat tricks, however. And just scoring in general.

James van Riemsdyk notched his hat trick in a 7-4 win against the Minnesota Wild on Monday, and it was Sean Couturier’s turn with his first career regular season hatty in a 4-3 win against the Boston Bruins on Wednesday Night Hockey on NBCSN.

And it helps to have Carter Hart, who has now won three of his past four starts (and has seen 35 or more shots in four of his past five).

Hart stopped 39 of the 42 pucks sent his way as the Flyers were outshot 42-19.

Hart’s now responsible for two wins on the trot, something the Flyers haven’t experience since Dec. 20. Winning hasn’t come easy in the City of Brotherly love. It’s been a tough season, so silver linings are are the small victories in what appears to be a lost season.

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The Bruins were largely unlucky in the game after controlling two-thirds of the possession, creating 62 shot attempts five-on-five.

Boston had won six of their past eight coming into the game but lost 3-2 in overtime to the Montreal Canadiens on Monday.

With David Backes made a healthy scratch for Wednesday’s game, Boston jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the first period, including the first NHL goal by Backes’ replacement, Peter Cehlarik.

The Flyers would go on to score four unanswered, with Oscar Lindblom getting the ball rolling and Couturier’s natural hat trick putting the Flyers into a 4-2 lead in the third.

Cehlarik added to his impressive debut by scoring with 56 seconds left in the game but wasn’t enough to get the Bruins to overtime.

Meanwhile, Jori Lehtera was tossed from the game at 16:48 of the second period when he drilled Ryan Donato right on the numbers, sending the latter’s face crashing into the glass.

Donato was bloodied on the play and needed to leave the game to get cleaned up.

Lehtera was given a five-minute major for boarding and a game misconduct (and likely a long, hard look from the league for the non-sensical hit).

The Bruins were only able to get three shots on goal during the man-advantage.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Bergeron, Couturier, Kopitar are 2018 Selke Trophy finalists

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NHL awards season is upon us and Wednesday brought the finalists for the 2018 Selke Trophy, given to the league’s best two-way forward.

The nominees, who are voted for by members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association at the conclusion of the regular season, are Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins, Sean Couturier of the Philadelphia Flyers and Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings.

Bergeron is a four-time winner who could become the all-time leader for Selke wins, passing Bob Gainey, if he takes home the hardware in June. Couturier is a first-time finalist, while Kopitar won the award in 2016 and has been a finalist in four of the past five seasons.

The winner will be announced on June 20 at the 2018 NHL Awards in Las Vegas.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

The Case For Patrice Bergeron: This is a record seventh consecutive nomination for Bergeron, passing Pavel Datsyuk’s streak of six seasons.

A perennial contender, Bergeron put together another solid season despite dealing with injuries that limited him to just 64 games — something that could hurt his chances of winning a record fifth trophy.

Still, Bergeron paced the league in CF% (Corsi-for percentage) with 57.68 percent (minimum 600 minutes played). He was also sixth in face-off win percentage (57.3 percent) and was an NHL-best 58.3 percent on faceoffs while shorthanded.

The 32-year-old, who won the award in 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2017, finished with 63 points, his best season in terms of points per game. Bergeron hit the 30-goal mark for the fourth time in his career.

The Case For Sean Couturier: Couturier had a career-year in terms of goals (31), assists (45) and points (76) playing in all 82 regular season games for the Flyers.

Couturier, getting his first Selke nomination, benefitted from a move to left wing for Claude Giroux, and the line that formed with the duo flourished all season.

Couturier was leaned upon by the Flyers and was second in the NHL in minutes with 1,770:31 and third in average time-on-ice at 21:35 per game.

Couturier’s possession metrics were solid, finishing with a 53.2 percent CF%, which was highest on the Flyers.

A win for Couturier would make him the first Flyers Selke winner since Dave Poulin in 1987 and just the third in franchise history (Bobby Clarke won in 1983).

The Case For Anze Kopitar: The 2016 winner is a finalist for the fourth time in the past five seasons, and he has, arguably, the strongest case this season to return to the podium.

The 30-year-old had a bounce-back season this year, scoring a career-high 35 times on his way to a career-best 92 points, good for seventh in NHL scoring.

Kopitar led all NHL forwards in ice time with 1,810:58, an average of 22:05 per game. This is all the more impressive given that the Kings were the top club in the league in terms of team defense, allowing a league-low 2.45 goals per game.

Kopitar was also a force shorthanded, averaging 2:10 per game on the NHL’s top penalty-killing unit.

And his faceoff prowess has never been better, taking 37 percent of the Kings’ faceoffs, the third-highest percentage in the NHL. His faceoff win rate of 54.1% led the Kings and also marked a career-best.

2018 NHL Award finalists
Vezina Trophy

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck