Sean Couturier (and his line) were a minus-5 against the New York Islanders on Monday afternoon. That's a really bad number, and a whole huge crew of Flyers beat writers made sure to point it out time and time again throughout the day.
Couturier line gives up another. It's 6-3 ... and I think that's a minus-5 for the center.— Rob Parent (@ReluctantSE) January 19, 2015
Couturier -5. Career-worst was -3 prior to today.— Tim Panaccio (@tpanotchCSN) January 19, 2015
#Flyers Couturier, Read, Umberger a staggering collective minus-13 in the game. Exact totals for each omitted to protect the innocent.— Bob Herpen (@pelle31lives) January 19, 2015
Berube critical of effort of Coots line, which was minus-14. #Flyers— Sam Carchidi (@BroadStBull) January 19, 2015
Couturier line minus-14— Tim Panaccio (@tpanotchCSN) January 19, 2015
There are two things horrendously wrong with all of this. For starters, you cannot combine plus-minus. The line wasn't a minus-14 unless 14 goals were scored while they were on the ice ... and well, no. The crazy logic here was illustrated perfectly by Dan Schmidt, who said "Three Flyers beat writers drove to Long Island for the game. They really enjoyed their combined 9 hour trip!"
It's totally wrong and completely misleading to use the stat this way, yet it seems to happen all the time.
It's even worse because the stat, even when used properly, is just absolutely terrible. You can look at the box score and see that Couturier was a minus-5, but you have to watch the actual goals. Couturier was not at fault for a single one of them. Not even one.
Let's go goal by goal and take a look though. There are six of them scored with Couturier on the ice. He was a minus-5 because the Flyers scored a goal with Couturier on the ice as well. We'll look at all six goals against.
Goal 1: Michael Grabner flies by Carlo Colaiacovo
Couturier was in the middle of the ice defending against the pass to Grabner. He got in the passing lane but the puck got through anyhow. There wasn't much more he could've done, especially since it was a quick turnaround and he was just getting his body turned around when the pass was made.
Colaiacovo got caught looking and didn't anticipate the pass well enough. Grabner easily beat him down the wing and got in on goal for a clear look at the net. This one was not on Sean Couturier at all.
Goal 2: Nikolai Kulemin gets lost in front
The d-zone coverage got a little confusing here, but ultimately the goal wasn't Couturier's fault. Couturier probably could've been over in the middle of the ice towards where Kulemin was, since he wasn't being marked by anybody else -- as the center, you're generally responsible for the slot area in defensive coverage -- but he's also responsible for shadowing the opposing center, in this case Brock Nelson, who is standing right behind him and being tied up by Mark Streit.
Vincent Lecavalier and Luke Schenn should have been able to do enough to keep Kulemin from grabbing this rebound, and since he's the opposing left winger, he's technically Schenn's guy. They're both standing two feet away on either side. Just ugly coverage all over the place on this goal, though.
Goal 3: Not even close to Couturier's fault
This was a breakaway goal scored by Kulemin after he blocked a Matt Read point shot and followed the block into the neutral zone and down ice. Read was slow as molasses -- we can tell you're injured, buddy --
Don't even need a video for this one. The screenshot points it out just fine.
Goal 4: Couturier was barely out of the penalty box
Listen to the audio on this next video. Sean Couturier was barely even on the ice, having just stepped out of the penalty box a mere two seconds before this puck was put into the net.
If that's not a clear illustration of how bad plus/minus is as a stat, I don't know what else is.
(I guess you could blame him for taking the penalty in the first place. We'll give you that if you want. But that's not how plus-minus works, since it doesn't even include power play goals.)
Goal 5: Seeing-eye point shot finds its way to net
We don't need a video for this one either. Here:
Goal 6: Couturier blamed for an empty-netter, too
I mean, what's another minus among friends right?
* * *
Plus-minus is a stupid stat, and it works both ways too. Back in 2011, defenseman Erik Gustafsson had a plus-6 night and everybody raved about it, but in reality he only had a hand in about three of the goals -- still impressive, but not plus-6 impressive.
Sean Couturier and his line didn't have a great game on Monday against the Islanders, but the entire team was awful. Couturier wasn't at fault for six goals against. At worst, he had a slight hand in one of those goals. It's time we put plus-minus in its place as a terrible stat that doesn't really show us any important context into a hockey game.