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Why isn't Sean Couturier scoring?

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Sean Couturier has only three points in 13 games so far in the 2015-16 season. Why do his offensive numbers remain low even while his underlying metrics are skyrocketing?

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Following Thursday night's shutout loss to the San Jose Sharks, the Philadelphia Flyers officially became the low-scoring team in the NHL. Through 19 games, they've averaged 1.79 goals per contest, last in the league behind the Anaheim Ducks.

The main culprits early in the season were superstars Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, who started slow in terms of point production. But both have turned it around recently - Giroux has eight points in his last nine games, and Voracek finally scored his first goal of the year on Saturday against Carolina.

Still, the team-wide goal woes have continued despite Giroux and Voracek picking up the pace. Frustration needed a new target, and it found one in center Sean Couturier. In 13 games, Couturier has only one goal and two assists for three points, putting him on a 19-point pace over 82 games. That would be the least productive offensive season of Couturier's career, and a huge disappointment for a second line center who many believe still has untapped potential.

Clearly, Couturier's tangible production has been lacking so far. But there remain positive signs in the young forward's play. For example, he dominated at even strength in matchups against Alexander Ovechkin last week, and Joe Thornton this week. Why is Couturier driving play against top competition but still cannot light the lamp?

A puck possession breakout

Right now, there is a disconnect between two sects of the Flyers fanbase - the analytic community and those who favor basic stats - when it comes to Sean Couturier's performance this season. The latter points to his production and argues that it's far below average for a second line center, Couturier's current role. He may be posting strong shifts, but at some point, all of the cycling deep in opponents' zones needs to result in some goals.

The analytic community, on the other hand, looks at Sean Couturier's puck possession statistics and sees a player on the verge of a breakout season.

So far in his career, Couturier has been a middle-of-the-road forward in terms of even strength puck possession. To his credit, Couturier has long taken tough matchups and difficult faceoffs, which accounted a bit for the uninspiring numbers. But with recent research pointing towards the conclusion that quality of competition and zone starts do not have a major effect on individual possession metrics, it became fair to wonder if Couturier would always be a break-even Corsi player.

But this year, Couturier has taken a significant leap forward.

Couturier Corsi Rel

That's not just an improvement, it's a quantum leap. In 2015-16, Couturier has been right in line with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek (historically stellar Corsi players) when it comes to on-ice puck possession. This is why those who adhere to stat-based analysis are so excited about Couturier's play this season - through thirteen games, he's showcased a dramatic improvement in a key area.

Less on-ice shots and chances?

While Sean Couturier has been on the ice at 5-on-5 this year, the Flyers have generated 55.84% of the total shot attempts by both teams. That implies territorial dominance, and over a large sample, will almost certainly result in the Flyers scoring more goals with Couturier on the ice than they allow.

But it doesn't necessarily mean that Couturier will increase his individual point totals.

Let's say that Player A and Player B have equal 60% Corsi For percentages. When Player A is on the ice, his team takes 60 shot attempts and allows 40 per 60 minutes of play. When Player B is on the ice, the team takes 30 shots and allows 20.

Who will most likely score more points? The answer is Player A, because when he is on the ice, the team is creating more shots and more chances for the puck to go in the net. Player B is providing the same degree of territorial dominance, but can't be expected to score nearly as much as Player A, because his team does not generate a high shot volume when he plays.

Sean Couturier has long held a reputation for stellar defensive play. Could Couturier be Player B in this scenario - suppressing shot attempts against but not generating much offense either?

Nope. The Flyers are actually generating more shot attempts, scoring chances, and high-danger scoring chances with Sean Couturier on the ice than with top scorer Claude Giroux.

Couturier vs. Giroux

Not only are the Flyers with Couturier creating more chances than the Flyers with Giroux this year, Couturier's 2015-16 on-ice numbers are better than Giroux's last year, too. Giroux's on-ice high-danger per 60 rate in 2014-15 was 11.20, still behind Couturier's 12.21 so far this season.

Stop missing the net

The Flyers are attempting lots of shots with Sean Couturier on the ice. They're even generating a high amount of scoring chances. What they're not doing is actually hitting the net with regularity.

Couturier is second on the Flyers (behind linemate Matt Read) in on-ice Corsi For (shots on goal, missed shots and blocked shots) per 60 with 61.77. Even in Fenwick For per 60, which removes blocked shots from the equation, Couturier still ranks 5th. But in Shots For per 60, he's way down in 14th, with 26.87.

And here we come to the heart of the problem. Couturier and his linemates are creating opportunities to shoot. They're even getting to high-danger areas. But they're just not hitting the net once they get there.

So much territorial dominance should not result in less on-ice Shots per 60 than Scott Laughton (28.77). Or Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (27.90). Or even R.J. Umberger (27.11). It's hard work entering the offensive zone, establishing a cycle, and finding an open man in scoring areas. The Couturier line has all of that down. They're just failing at the last (arguably most important) task - testing the opposing goaltender.

If they fix this problem while retaining their puck possession advantage, the goals will come.

Couturier must be more assertive

Sean Couturier has taken a measurable leap forward in terms of on-ice puck possession statistics, even if lots of missed shots have blunted the tangible impact of the improvement. But Couturier must take an active role in fixing that problem, and not just by firing more accurate shots. Couturier needs to play a larger role in making key decisions with puck.

Despite all of his on-ice shot metrics going through the roof this season, Couturier's personal shot metrics are way down. In fact, his individual Shots per 60, Fenwick per 60 and Corsi per 60 are all at career lows.

Couturier Individual Shooting

He's deferring more and more to his teammates, which is making him very dependent upon their ability to hit the net and score goals. And these individual declines are coming despite his on-ice Fenwick and Corsi going through the roof, so this chart doesn't even showcase the full extent of Couturier's passiveness.

For example, last season, Couturier personally took 23.19 percent of the unblocked shot attempts while he was on the ice. This year, that percentage is down to 14.28% - another career-low.

Couturier has not been assertive in the neutral zone, either. Among all Flyers forwards, he ranks 13th in 5-on-5 zone entries per 60, despite ranking sixth in Controlled Entry percentage. When he does enter the zone, it's with possession of the puck 46.15 percent of the time. But he only generates 14.80 entries per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play, less than all forwards except Vincent Lecavalier and Brayden Schenn.

Once the puck is in the offensive zone, Couturier helping to drive possession via great work along the boards and smart passes. But too often, he is deferring to his teammates' skills in key moments. If Couturier wants the team to score more goals while he is on the ice, he would be well-served to be a bit more greedy with the puck, both in the neutral and offensive zones. He would then have more control over the way his line gets on the attack, and how many shot attempts actually hit the net.

Conclusion

Sean Couturier's on-ice possession statistics are through the roof this season, but so far, it's yet to help his individual scoring metrics. His strong Corsi masks poor individual shot generation rates and a line-wide propensity to miss the net with key scoring chances.

The good news is that these problems seem fixable. It's much easier to clean up general shooting accuracy than to teach a player how to create dangerous scoring chances. Regarding his individual shooting issues, Couturier has been more assertive in the past - it's just a matter of the player making a conscious effort to trust his shot and puck handling ability a bit more than he has thus far in 2015-16.

If these problems are fixed, Sean Couturier's stellar on-ice metrics should begin to bear fruit with an offensive rebound. And for a Flyers team in desperate need of scoring, such a rebound would be most welcome.

All statistics gathered from War-On-Ice.com, Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com, or manually tracked by Charlie O'Connor.