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What Sean Couturier Returning to the Lineup Means for the Flyers

The Philadelphia Flyers fell 6-3 to the St. Louis Blues Wednesday night after giving up four straight goals in the third period. It was a crushing defeat after the Flyers held the lead early in the last frame. While the Flyers have gone 1-3-1 in their last five games following the 10-game winning streak, there was one positive: Sean Couturier entering the lineup for the first time in 16 games.

Last year at 23 years old, Couturier had a career-high, point-per-game percentage of .62. He is the best two-way forward for the Flyers and came in eighth for Selke voting, behind Anze Kopitar, Patrice Bergeron and Jonathan Toews, but was ahead of players like Pavel Datsyuk, Nicklas Backstrom and Joe Pavelski.

While it is hard to say that the Flyers missed Couturier due to their 10-game winning streak in his absence, he absolutely is an integral part of their system. Throughout his career, Couturier has more defensive zone starts than offensive. Last year, he started 56.6% of his faceoffs in his own zone. Also, on a porous Flyers defense, he has posted a Corsi-for of 54.1% this year, which means that at even strength, 54.1% of the shots are taken for Couturier’s team instead of against.

Brayden Schenn, who replaced Couturier as second-line center with Wayne Simmonds and Travis Konecny, has been more sheltered in that position than Couturier was. Schenn has a Corsi-for of 48.5% this year and has an astounding offensive zone start percentage of 63.0.

This year, Couturier has started 19.6% more of his faceoffs in the defensive zone than Schenn has, which shows that even in the same position, Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol uses the two players differently. Out of Schenn’s ten goals this year, he has only scored two of them at even strength, which means he is roughly on pace for five even strength goals.

Schenn has been able to vulture eight power-play goals this year. However, while Schenn has been able to produce at a point-per-game pace of .68 to Couturier’s .38, Schenn has obviously had the more sheltered starts to Couturier’s.

While Schenn has been able to put up points in Couturier’s absence, Hakstol has changed the way that he utilizes that second line without him. With Couturier on that line, Hakstol is able to use them as a shutdown line since Simmonds and Couturier are defensive-minded forwards.

Taylor Leier was featured on the top line with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek in the loss against the Blues, but I would not expect that to last. Once Couturier is back into game shape, he should be slotted back into that second line center spot so that line can be used to shut down other teams’ elite players.

It would not be surprising to see Leier demoted back to the third line and Schenn promoted to the top line with Giroux and Voracek to see if those three players can work well together. The loss Wednesday shows that the Flyers need to go back to being more defensive-minded as five of the six goals were either deflection goals or screens and slotting Couturier back into the second line will make that happen. [UPDATE: Michael Raffl is back and he’s on the top line with Voracek and G.]

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