This was supposed to be the year.
It was the Philadelphia Flyers’ plan — put Sean Couturier in better situations to give him more of a chance to put up offensive numbers, like the ones similar to his time in juniors. Through four games of the young season, the team has shown an aversion to starting the the 21-year-old center out on that part of the ice. Here’s how the team has handled him, thus far:
Throughout training camp and the preseason, the Flyers placed Wayne Simmonds on a line with Couturier and Matt Read. The belief was that Simmonds, who had potted a career-high 29 goals the season before, would open things up on the offensive end for Couturier, all while still keeping the line’s defensive capabilities intact.
Things started out on the right note for Couturier. The center potted his first goal of the season in the season opener, earning it after cementing himself with good positioning in front of the net to put home the deflection.
However, one and a half games in coach Craig Berube shuffled the lines in an attempt to get the offense going against the New Jersey Devils. While Couturier’s line was the only one that produced a corsi percentage above 50% in the team’s season opener, Simmonds was moved off that line and replaced by R.J. Umberger. Since then, Simmonds has continued to be a possession machine in the offensive zone and has lit the lamp five times to begin the season. Meanwhile, Couturier and his linemates have fallen on the other side of 50% for possession each of the last three contests.
More starts in the offensive zone was another option to help Couturier flourish. Through four games though, Berube hasn’t deployed Couturier the way many had envisioned. At even-strengh, Couturier has taken just 27.9% of his faceoffs in the offensive zone, a pace that would be the lowest of his career. Already tasked with shutting down the opponents best line, Berube is leaving Couturier with an uphill battle to produce.
However, while the Flyers haven’t placed Couturier in the most advantageous position to succeed, it doesn’t mean they haven’t given him ice time. He currently is second among Philadelphia forwards in TOI (20:52 per game) and has been getting ample power-play time on the second unit. With Vincent Lecavalier out over the next two weeks, Couturier was also given the opportunity to play on the team’s top power-play unit during a five-on-three situation Tuesday night against the Anaheim Ducks.
Lecavalier’s injury surely has effected the Flyers’ game plan, and the shuffled lines have left Berube with no choice but to go back to relying on Couturier’s defensive gifts to help win games. Will this be the way that Couturier is used moving forward this season? As long as Couturier is in a Flyers uniform, the temptation will always be there for Berube to utilize him for the strengths he possesses now, not the potential he has shown early in his young career.