Sean Couturier has been touted as one of the premiere defensive forwards in the NHL by Flyers fans. I thought it would be interesting to see how Couturier plays against varying levels of competition, to see if he stands out among the best players or not.
So I went on stats.hockeyanalysis and looked at all the players Couturier has played at least 5 minutes against at evens strength in this season and last season. I then divided each year into four groups by Couturier's opponents performance when not playing Couturier.
Below were the results, depicted both in a table and graphically. Click on the graph to blow it up further.
|vs. sub 46%||vs. 46% - 50%||vs. 50% - 54%||vs 54% and above|
|How other players did against the same opponents||56.19%||51.91%||48.23%||43.53%|
So let's break this down.
Couturier vs Elite players (54% Corsi For or better)
Couturier is viewed as someone who can shut down elite hockey players, and Flyers regularly cite his play against Evgeni Malkin (though looking at the stats Malkin absolutely crushes Coots when they play each other). Looking at the data, he certainly doesn't seem to be standing out. His CF% (corsi for) against the better players is worse both this season and last season than how everyone else performs against those same elite players. The one caveat is Couturier's zone starts. He starts in the D-zone a lot, which has a decent impact on his possession metrics.
I think when accounting for his zone stats we can say Couturier is doing probably around average or maybe slightly above average against the top players. He certainly isn't fantastic as most people might have predicted.
Couturier vs Good players (54 - 50% CF%)
His results have been mixed against the players in the 54-50% CF% range. Last year he was slightly better than average against those good players, and combing that with his really low O-zone start % last season and we can be pretty impressed by last year's Corsi For%. This year however has not been nearly as good.He's been nearly a percentage point below average at 47.29% against players in this range.
Couturier vs bad players (50-46% CF%)
This is easily Couturier's most impressive range. Last year, he was about average at 51.41% with his 32% zone start percentage. This year with a more favorable (but still defensive) zone start %, Couturier has ripped players in this range for a 54.5 CF%.
Couturier vs very bad players (sub 46% CF%)
Couturier has been very disappointing against the worst players in this study. Facing guys with sub 46% Corsi For percentages, he has been notably worse than most. Couturier isn't dominating like we might expect him to do. Know that his low zone start %'s the past two years makes this more palatable, but I'd say this is still a pretty disappointing result for someone like Couturier.
I think there is evidence to support that Couturier is average or slightly above average when facing top level players the past few years, especially when considering that Couturier stars a lot of shifts in the D-zone. However, his performance so far does not seem to match his reputation as an elite shutdown center. Couturier is generally regarded as a strong possession player, so I was a little disappointed in what I found in the data.
There are some limitations to the data I have presented in this post. The first is that I only have data for players who have played 5 minutes or more against Couturier in the past few years. So we don't have the data for all the guys who played 4 minutes or 3 minutes or even less than that.
The second is we are dealing with limited sample sizes. Given that we are basically talking about 80 games or so, we can't use this data as absolute Gospel on Couturier's play.
The third is that some minutes are double counted. Couturier for example played 20 minutes against both Crosby and Kunitz this season, and I'll bet a decent chunk of those minutes came when Crosby and Kunitz were out on the ice together. However, this study treats them as separate, thus double counting those minutes. Unfortunately there is nothing we can do about that at the moment. (For what it's worth, Couturier has been >50% CF against Kunitz and Crosby this year, so that's very impressive).
A side note on competition
This is a perfect example of how competition in the short run can matter. Look how Couturier's performance varies greatly as his opponents get worse or better.
However, as we know, the differences that NHL players face in quality of competition (QoC) are quite small, and as a result QoC has a limited impact on player results after a significant amount of time. But if we look at one game or two games, then yes, QoC has great affect.