82 — the number of NHL games Sean Couturier played in between April 2, 2016 (the day of a 3-2 Flyers win over the Ottawa Senators) and Monday night’s loss to the Arizona Coyotes.
Why’s that game against the Sens significant? Because it was the last time Couturier scored a power play goal prior to Monday night.
Yes, Couturier went an entire regular season’s worth of games between goals on the power play. Following that game against Ottawa, Couturier went four more regular season games in April 2016, one playoff game (before injuring his shoulder against the Capitals), all 66 games that he played in 2016-17, and 11 games this season before finally scoring again with the man-advantage on Monday night in Arizona.
Broad Street Hockey dot com has never been afraid to dabble in unabashed pro-Sean Couturier commentary, but the fact that he’s largely failed to produce points on the power play for a long time is no secret and something we’ve discussed in the past. One of the constants among the team’s struggles with its second power play unit over the past few years has been Couturier’s presence there, and coming into this year it was fair to ask whether he should be playing on the power play at all. Courtesy of Charlie O’Connor’s review of Couturier’s 2016-17 season:
Over the past four years, Couturier was granted 525:42 minutes at 5v4, primarily with the second unit. However, in those minutes, he’s been able to muster just 17 total points, with only six counting as primary points (goals and first assists).
For perspective, there have been 188 forwards over the past four seasons to skate in at least 400 minutes at 5v4. Couturier ranks 186th in Points per 60 among that group, at 1.94. In Primary Points/60, he’s dead last at 0.68. Jori Lehtera is the next worst primary point producer — at 1.14, nearly double Couturier’s rate.
But an interesting thing happened last night: Couturier’s goal came while he was out with the top power play unit, not the second one. This change may have first taken place in Saturday’s game in Toronto, but many observers at the time seemed to think that Couturier was only out in Valtteri Filppula’s spot because Filppula had been on the ice for a long shift right before that power play started.
On Monday night, though, Couturier was there again, and it seems clear that this is going to be a thing for at least the short-term future.
I noted it in my column, but Couturier confirmed after the game that his time in the slot on PP1 wasn't a one-off. It's his job now.— Charlie O'Connor (@charlieo_conn) October 31, 2017
Couturier’s sudden presence on the top power play unit is most likely attributable to the hot start that he’s had elsewhere. His seven goals entering Monday night led the Flyers, and all seven of those came at even strength. Are the Flyers trying to seize on Couturier’s strong start and carry it over to other areas of the game? Is the chemistry that he’s shown with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek what got him this role between them on the power play?
If so, one has to think that Couturier won’t be waiting 18 months and two offseasons to get his next power play goal. The spot in the high slot on the top power play has historically treated its past residents — such as Scott Hartnell and Brayden Schenn — pretty well. Even Filppula, a pass-first and pass-second kind of player, scored three power play goals in the first month of this season from that spot.
Couturier’s past struggles on the power play deserved the scrutiny that they received, but he may be a better fit stylistically in the high slot than he is at the half-wall, where he’s spent most of his time with the second power play unit. Combine that fit with the high-end personnel that the Flyers have on their top power play and the clear opportunity that a spot with them presents, and Couturier should be in the best position to succeed on the power play that he’s ever been in at the NHL level.
The inability of Sean Couturier to reach the 40-point mark during each season of his career as an NHLer can largely be attributed to his struggles on the power play. But if he’s able to turn his early success into a full-time spot with the top unit? Coupled with the blazing-hot start he’s off to at even strength? He could hit 40 points by the All-Star Break.