Matt Read: the Flyers' Swiss Army knife

Elsa

After a dominant effort against the Penguins in a home-and-home this weekend, Sean Couturier has rightfully been the recipient of much praise. However, let's not forget about the other half of the dynamic duo...Matt Read.

We've been privy to Sean Couturier's defensive ability for some time now, and after two wins against the Pittsburgh Penguins this weekend in which Couturier was matched up against Sidney Crosby, the broadcast booths of the nationally televised games were heaping on the praise as well.

For all of the great work that Couturier does, however, his jack-of-all-trades winger is always right there with him, also excelling.

From the day Matt Read signed with the Flyers as an undrafted free-agent out of Bemidji State University it was apparent that he was a good player. He had 13 points in 11 games with the Phantoms to end the 2010-11 season. Most Flyers fans were excited about him finding a place with the big club.

Since that time, Read has fit like a glove, and the fit only gets better when paired with Sean Couturier. There is only one real weakness of Read's and that's his lack of size. However, his speed, positioning, and hockey IQ rarely make that a problem for him.

In Saturday's 4-0 shutout of the Penguins, Couturier played just under 20 minutes while matched up against the best player in the world; including over five minutes while shorthanded. Crosby, the aforementioned best player in the world, finished the game with zero points and only three shots.

In that same game Matt Read, while playing right alongside Couturier, played over 18 minutes and nearly three and a half while down a man. He also had himself a shorthanded goal and four shots of his own.

If you're a fan of analytics it gets a little more impressive.

Couturier's zone starts (the ratio of starts in the offensive zone at even strength) were only 37.5 percent, indicating he was frequently being asked to defend Crosby in the defensive zone; a tough task. Despite that, Couturier generated 66.7 percent of the shot attempts while he was on the ice. In case math isn't your forte, that means he was generating quite a few more attempts for himself and his line than he was allowing Crosby and his.

Read had identical zone starts to Couturier, 37.5 percent, and yet he generated 72.2 percent of the shot attempts while he was on the ice. An improvement even over Couturier.

In Sunday's 4-3 win, Couturier played nearly 20 minutes again, and nearly six and a half while shorthanded. He also had two assists, one while shorthanded. Crosby finished this game with zero points and three shots.

Read played over 15 minutes including nearly five minutes of time on the penalty kill and over a minute on the power play as well. Read had two goals, one while shorthanded, and six shots.

Couturier's zone starts in this game were even more difficult at 25 percent. Yet, he still came out on the better side of the shot attempt battle generating 54.5 percent of them while matched up mostly against Crosby.

Read's zone starts were at 30 percent and he generated 54.5 percent of the shot attempts while on the ice.

On the weekend Couturier's collective zone starts were at 30 percent and the shot attempt totals came to 61.2 percent in his favor. Read's collective zone starts were 33.3 percent while generating 62.5 percent of all shot attempts. All of this while both players matched up against the best player in the world as often as possible.

For all of the praise that Couturier is rightfully getting, Matt Read deserves some as well.

There is seemingly nothing that Matt Read can't do.

There is seemingly nothing that Matt Read can't do. On the season he's playing nearly 19 minutes a night. He plays the fifth most shorthanded minutes per game in the entire league (the Flyers have three of the top five). He also sees 1:46 of power play time a game as well.

Read currently sits at 19 goals and 15 assists for 34 points in 60 games. He's pacing for a 23 goal, 42 point season which would fall just shy of his career high set in his rookie season. While the offensive production has remained the same, his role has most certainly not. It has only gotten more and more difficult as Read has proven to be the yang to Couturier's ying.

Read (and Couturier) are in rare company with respect to their defensive role. There are only fifteen forwards that see zone starts and competition as skewed as he does (less than 45 percent zone starts and greater than 29 percent Opponent Rating which measures the quality of the competition a player faces).

Player Pos. Team(s) Shot-attempt Differential Zone Starts Opponent Rating
Logan Couture C Sharks 53.60% 43.40% 30.00%
Patrick Marleau C Sharks 53.10% 44.90% 29.90%
Josh Bailey C Islanders 51.60% 44.60% 29.00%
Chris Higgins L Canucks 50.80% 42.20% 29.20%
Frans Nielsen C Islanders 50.20% 44.70% 29.10%
Matt Read R Flyers 49.90% 44.10% 29.40%
Sean Couturier C Flyers 49.30% 42.90% 29.10%
Antoine Vermette C Coyotes 48.90% 42.00% 29.60%
Matt Stajan C Flames 47.60% 36.50% 29.40%
Tomas Plekanec C Canadiens 45.50% 40.10% 29.80%
Brian Gionta R Canadiens 45.40% 39.60% 29.70%
Saku Koivu C Ducks 45.30% 44.90% 29.30%
Phil Kessel C Maple Leafs 44.20% 43.00% 29.80%
Nikolai Kulemin L Maple Leafs 42.30% 35.10% 29.10%
Cody Hodgson C Sabres 41.40% 40.90% 29.30%

Among those players, Read has the sixth best rating with respect to shot attempt differential. And this isn't just a case of Couturier being the exceptional player and bringing Read along for the ride.

When Couturier is apart from Matt Read on the season his shot attempt differential is 46.2 percent. Matt Read is 47.4 percent when without Couturier. Together they climb to 48.9 percent. They make each other better.

Among forwards he's third on the team in average time-on-ice. He's third on the team in average shorthanded time-on-ice. He's seventh on the team in average power play time-on-ice (and remember the Flyers play a forward on the point of the first unit). He's third on the team in goals and he's sixth in points. But really...what can't Matt Read do? I'm still waiting.

In a forward group that generally lacks speed, and moreso with Couturier at center, he is a breath of fresh air. On a team that has more centers than it knows what to do with, Read can play either wing ... and oh, and he can play center in a pinch too. He also has an underrated shot, as evidenced this past weekend, that he isn't afraid to use.

He can move up and down the lineup effortlessly. He would surely not be out of place on the top-line, but he's found his place alongside Couturier forming one of the most impressive shutdown lines in the league. At only $3.625 million for the next four seasons, Read should prove to be a steal.

Sean Couturier is absolutely deserving of praise for his continued growth as a defensive stalwart. As a center, his defensive responsibilities are substantially great; but Matt Read is no schlep himself.

Statistics Key
Zone Starts = Offensive zone start/defensive zone start % (Zone start ratio)
Shot Attempt Differential = CF% (Corsi For %)
Opponent Rating = TotTm% QoC (Average (time-weighted) TotTm% of 5-on-5 on-ice opponents)
All statistics pulled from Extra Skater, HockeyAnalysis, or Behind The Net.
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