The Philadelphia Flyers’ turnaround from coach canning basement dwellers to playoff contenders has been well documented, from Steve Mason’s performance as an actual NHL goaltender to Craig Berube’s ability to get these guys competing on every shift.
But one line has come into focus as the heart and soul of this team, at least for the moment: Sean Couturier, Matt Read and Steve Downie.
The trio combined for 9 points in Wednesday’s furious comeback against the Red Wings in front of a national television audience: a career-high 4 for Couturier, 3 for Read and 2 from Downie.
Over their last 10 games, they’ve combined for 26 points: Couturier (5-5-10), Read (5-4-9), Downie (1-6-7).
It’s hard to call them a third line anymore, even though they have the most defensive responsibilities of any Flyers line. They actually play more minutes than the usual second line of Brayden Schenn, Vinny Lecavalier and Wayne Simmonds - who have been joined by Michael Raffl in Lecavalier’s absence due to back spasms.
It’s fitting that Couturier has become the face of this line, seeing as how his career calling card was the number he did on Evgeni Malkin back in the 2012 playoffs. His game against the Red Wings on national TV opened a lot of eyes, but he’s been doing this since Downie was added to his line, according to Berube:
“I think he (Couturier) was good offensively no matter what, but Downie there adds another element for sure,” said Berube. “He’s a good playmaker down low, he’s strong with the puck and the battle. He keeps a lot of pucks alive down low, I think the line has really good chemistry and they complement each other well.”
So how are they doing this, and can they sustain it?
Via Extra Skater, their zone start numbers:
Off. Zone Starts
Neutral Zone Starts
Def. Zone Starts
The offense they’ve generated hasn’t come from many opportunities that begin in the attacking zone. The disparity in Downie’s defensive zone starts is probably due to sample size and his use on more offensive lines earlier in the season.
So can they sustain the offense? The great Eric T., hockey stat nerd elite, sees their scoring spike as a product of above average shooting percentage.
On his chart, the y-axis is the percentage of shot attempts (Corsi) that went in.
According to Eric, the average should be around 4-5 percent.
Clearly, they are above average at the moment.
But isn’t their offense just icing on the TastyKake? As long as Read, Couturier and Downie are a stabilizing force and a defensive asset, the Flyers are going to keep them together.