Flyers' Sean Couturier having a sophomore slump defensively

Posted: January 30, 2013

NEW YORK - Ask Flyers sophomore Sean Couturier about his start this season and he will shake his head before offering a gap-toothed grin.

Couturier, 20, can't seem to avoid being on the ice when opponents score. Of the 20 goals the Flyers have given up in the first seven games, Couturier has been on the ice for 15 of them.

"Everything seems to be going in when I'm out there," Couturier said. "Right now, the bounces aren't going my way."

He continued that trend at Madison Square Garden Tuesday night, racing to the point as Michael Del Zotto's shot slipped past Ilya Bryzgalov to give New York a 1-0 lead less than 2 minutes into the game, and being on the ice for Ryan Callahan's second-period power-play goal.

Couturier was noted for his lights-out defensive play last season, particularly his job frustrating Hart Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin in the first round of the playoffs.

The question is: Has Couturier's defense lapsed, or has he been the victim of bounces on a shoddy penalty kill? For Flyers coach Peter Laviolette, that's an easy answer.

"I don't think we're scoring enough goals," Laviolette said. "He finds himself playing against top lines. Plus/minus is oftentimes a reflection of not scoring almost as much as it is [an opponent] scoring. The last couple games, we're playing against teams that check tightly."

We've waxed poetically about the flaws of the plus/minus statistic in hockey. But Couturier has a minus-4 rating, which actually looks a bit better than those original numbers mentioned would indicate.

Couturier has been on the ice for five even-strength goals against and 10 power-play goals against. One of those even-strength goals was an empty-netter, as was one of the power-play goals. The 10 power-play goals against do not count as minuses, since the team was shorthanded. He has scored twice himself, which count as a plus, and was also on the ice for a goal scored against the Rangers last Thursday.

Part of it is bad luck, too. Couturier wasn't the beneficiary of being on the ice for any of the Flyers' seven goals in Florida on Saturday night. That hurts the stat sheet, too.

No Flyer has shouldered a bigger load than Couturier on the penalty kill. He averaged a team-high 3:22 minutes shorthanded through the first six games, higher than any defenseman, on the league's 27th ranked unit. That's bound to ding your stats. He averaged 2:41 last season, less than Max Talbot, Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn.

Playing against top lines on the kill is a given. But for the four non-empty net, even-strength goals, the likes of Steven Stamkos, Marty St. Louis, Travis Zajac and Malkin were the opponents.

At even strength, Couturier also has taken on a bigger role. He is averaging 18-plus minutes per game in total ice time, nearly a 4-minute increase over last season.

Even with a few built-in excuses, Couturier was willing to take his share of the blame on a penalty-killing unit that isn't performing up to snuff.

"I realize that I've been on for a lot of goals," Couturier said. "Obviously, there's been some bad bounces, but it's a little bit of both. Defense was a big thing for me last year. This isn't the way I wanted to start. I need to get back to the basics and do what made me successful last year."

Quotable

"I think we need a larger sample before we go down the road of whether we're a good road team or not."

- Peter Laviolette, on the Flyers' 1-4 road record, following a league-best 25-13-3 mark last season away from home.

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