Sean Couturier

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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.

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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.

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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

Who could take Taylor Hall’s place if he has to miss the All-Star Game?

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With Taylor Hall set to miss the next couple of games due to a hand injury, and with that injury putting his All-Star Game prospects in jeopardy, we look at the players who are worthy of replacing the New Jersey Devils forward if he has to miss this weekend’s festivities.

Two names that immediately come to mind are Pittsburgh Penguins forward Phil Kessel and Philadelphia Flyers forward Sean Couturier.

There was already an argument that Kessel deserved to be at the ASG over Sidney Crosby. He was leading the Penguins in points then and two weeks later, he continues to pace Pittsburgh with 21 goals (tied with Evgeni Malkin) and 54 points, three more points than Crosby.

Couturier has already smashed his previous career highs in both goals (26) and points (47). He’s been part of the reason that Claude Giroux is already headed to the ASG and deserves to be there himself.

At third would have to be Sebastian Aho. The talent in the Metropolitan is evident with his snub. He’s clearly the best player on the Carolina Hurricanes this season (no disrespect to Teuvo Teravainen).

Aho is well on his way to eclipsing his rookie-season totals and a big reason why the Hurricanes are three points back of a playoff spot.

Beyond those three guys, there’s a few that certainly deserve the honor:

  • Anders Lee has 27 goals this season, seven off the pace he set last season with half the season to go.
  • Jakub Voracek leads the NHL with 45 assists, four more than teammate Giroux.
  • Evgeni Malkin. Not having a bad year.

It’s important to remember that the at-least-one-player-per-team rule goes out the window when it comes to replacing another All-Star.

There are certainly some very deserving names that didn’t get the first call.

But life’s about second chances.


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

Claude Giroux’s resurgence helping Sean Couturier soar to new heights

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Claude Giroux’s move to the wing this season was a response.

Giroux’s production had been tumbling out of the realm of elite point producers over the past two seasons and an effort needed to be made to try and restart G’s engines.

The moved seems asinine back in training camp, even with Giroux’s downward trend. Giroux had carved out quite the nice niche as a top centerman in the NHL as a point-per-game player who could play at both ends of the ice and win a pile of faceoffs.

So moving that guy to the wing would mean tearing a big hole down the middle in Philadelphia, even with Nolan Patrick, the second-overall pick this past summer, likely to fill it.

The suffering potential was huge, at least from the outside looking in.

The move, however, may be head coach Dave Hakstol’s best piece of genius thus far, and not just because Giroux has rekindled the form he exhibited a few years ago, but because of what he’s been able to do to help out Sean Couturier and the Flyers’ fearsome top line as a whole.

Giroux’s resurgence as a top player and his seamless adaptation to his new digs on the left side with Couturier has done wonders for the latter.

Couturier scored his 16th goal of the season on Wednesday in a 4-3 win for the Flyers over the Detroit Red Wings.

Couturier’s wingman had three assists, including on Couturier’s game-winning goal. Seeing the pair beside each other on the scoresheet has become a common occurrence in Philadelphia.

Claude Giroux has assisted on 12 of Couturier’s 16 goals this season and Couturier is shooting at 15.2 percent, 5.1 percent higher than his career average. Perhaps this boils down to Giroux finding his linemate in better shooting spots on the ice.

Couturier is certainly shooting more, with 105 shots already through 34 games. He had 165 in 82 games back during the 2013-14 season.

Coots’ 16 goals are already a career-high, one more than the 15 he set during the 2014-15 season. At this point, Couturier would simply shatter his old production records. Sitting on 31 points in 34 games, Couturier only needs eight to tie his previous career high.

That seems exceedingly plausible at this point. As does Giroux remaining a point-per-game player again. He’s already on 39 points in 34 games and is 12th in NHL scoring heading into Thursday night slate of action.

The Flyers have now won seven of their past eight games after their shocking 10-game losing streak prior to their current heater.

Perhaps the chemistry between center and winger could propel the Flyers back into the playoff picture after all.


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