Sean Couturier’s substantial contributions to the Flyers’ defensive game have made him a key part of their top-six, and his absence will be felt throughout the entire lineup.
Sean Couturier doesn’t have the flash of Claude Giroux, the raw power of Wayne Simmonds or the playmaking ability of Jakub Voracek, but Couturier is as integral to Philadelphia’s top six as either of his point-scoring counterparts. That’s what’s going to make his absence so difficult for the Flyers.
Mere hours before Philadelphia’s 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday, Philadelphia GM Ron Hextall announced that Couturier, 23, has been ruled out of action for 4-6 weeks with a lower-body injury, which has been reported to be an MCL sprain in his left knee by CSN Philadelphia’s Tim Panaccio.
Couturier’s injury came Tuesday night against Florida on what at first looked like an innocuous collision with Panthers center Vincent Trocheck. However, upon looking back at the play, Couturier and Trocheck seemed to hook feet, and it was almost immediately evident that Couturier had suffered a lower-body injury.
Losing Couturier for so long will be incredibly tough for the Flyers to recover from in the short term, and it means that a team that has already been incredibly leaky defensively will need to find some way to slow down the opposition attack without their best defensive forward. After Wednesday’s game, the Flyers sit 29th in the league with 70 goals against and their 3.33 goals against per game ranks 28th in the NHL, tied with the Arizona Coyotes and ahead of only the Dallas Stars.
That’s the biggest reason why losing Couturier hurts.
Often tasked with shutting down the opposition’s top line, Couturier has been a fixture of the top six for the Flyers over the past three season. You can be almost certain that had Couturier been available, he would have been out often to protect the Flyers’ 2-1 lead in the third period on Tuesday night.
Though his offensive ability hasn’t ever been his calling card — his career bests in goals and points are 15 and 39, respectively — his play inside his own end and ability to break up the attack have made him a near indispensable part of the Flyers’ lineup. He also makes a big difference in the possession game for his teammates.
According to Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com, there are 13 players who Couturier has played at least 15 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time with in the early season. For some of those players, that’s absolutely a small sample size, but the results are still incredibly interesting. Almost every player, save defenseman Nick Schultz, has a greater Corsi For percentage while skating alongside Couturier than they do playing without him. That’s not the result of zone starts, either.
The only players who’ve earned a higher percentage of offensive zone starts while playing with Couturier than without him are Mark Streit, Shayne Gostisbehere, Andrew MacDonald and Matt Read. Read, the lone forward, is the only one whose earned a substantial amount of offensive zone starts with Couturier and enough to really make an obvious dent in his Corsi For percentage, which is 71 percent with Couturier across 34 minutes of ice time and 49.7 without Couturier over a span of 203 minutes.
The list of players Couturier has had a positive effect on, though, includes Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, Radko Gudas and rookie Travis Konecny. And if anyone will miss Couturier, it’s Konecny, who has skated on a line with Couturier for the bulk of the campaign.
"I can't say enough about the way he plays,” Flyers GM Ron Hextall said of Couturier, according to PhiladelphiaFlyers.com. “He's one of my favorite players. Most coaches and most hockey people, they appreciate the game he plays so that's a big one for us. We have a little bit of adversity now. We have to face it head on and get going.”
For Couturier, this is the second straight season he’ll be forced to miss a sizeable chunk of time with injury. All told, he missed 19 games in 2015-16 with lower- and upper-body ailments, and he stands to miss anywhere from 12 to 20 games, depending on how his recovery goes.
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