For 3 Flyers, sophomore slump hurt coach's system

Sean Couturier (right) was one of the Flyers forwards whose scoring dropped after their rookie season. Brayden Schenn and Matt Read were the others. YONG KIM / Staff
Sean Couturier (right) was one of the Flyers forwards whose scoring dropped after their rookie season. Brayden Schenn and Matt Read were the others. YONG KIM / Staff
Posted: May 01, 2013

 Coach Peter Laviolette's attacking system didn't work for the Flyers this season.

The fact is, opponents had the better scoring chances, had many more odd-man rushes, and had goalie Ilya Bryzgalov's head on a swivel as he watched teams cycle the puck around him.

Do not be misled by the shots-on-goal figures that show the Flyers averaged 29 shots per game (15th in the 30-team NHL) and allowed 28.6 (tied for 12th). A majority of the Flyers' shots came from outside, while many of their opponents' attempts came on three-on-twos, two-on-ones, and breakaways.

In other words, opponents were on the attack.

Laviolette, whose franchise missed the playoffs for just the second time in the last 18 seasons, has been given a pass by general manager Paul Holmgren, maybe because the GM realizes he had a bad year himself.

If you read between the lines, it sounds as if Holmgren is forgiving because it was a lockout-shortened, 48-game season and because the Flyers had an abundance of injuries, especially on defense.

As for the team's up-and-down offense, one of the reasons Laviolette's attacking system struggled was that three sophomore forwards - Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn, and Matt Read - weren't as effective as they had been as rookies.

All three played well during the lockout. Couturier and Schenn excelled with the AHL's Phantoms, and Read had 24 points in 20 games in Sweden.

But, for the most part, it didn't carry over.

Couturier, 20, had a solid season on defense, but his offense took a step backward. He was given more responsibility this year after playing on the fourth line last season. Couturier started the season on the second line and primarily played on the third unit. His minutes increased - he averaged 15 minutes, 53 seconds per game this year, compared with 14:08 as a rookie - but he managed just four goals and was minus-8 in 46 games.

As a rookie, he had 13 goals and was plus-18 in 77 games, and he even scored a hat trick in a playoff win over Pittsburgh.

Schenn, 21, also received more playing time (15:32 per game, up from 14:07 ) and scored eight goals in 47 games after depositing 12 in 54 games the previous season. The Saskatoon native was inconsistent - going goal-less in 16 consecutive games at one point - and his defense was lacking at times.

Schenn, whom Holmgren called the "best player not in the NHL" when the Flyers acquired him and Wayne Simmonds in a 2011 deal that sent Mike Richards to Los Angeles, says it was a learning year.

"It's been a little inconsistency, but at the same time, I think I've made strides," said Schenn, one of the Flyers' more physical forwards. "I'm still a young player in this league and still learning. The more experience you get, the more you learn from the older players on the team, and it's only going to help you."

Read, 26, who led NHL rookies with 24 goals in 79 games the previous season, was the best of the three. He missed six games because of torn rib-cage muscles and finished with 11 goals in 42 games. But he disappeared in some games - perhaps because the injury lingered - and overall didn't progress even though his minutes increased from 17:04 per game to 18:01.

After returning from the injury, Read scored two goals in the next 20 games.

If the Flyers are going to rebound next season, they need Couturier, Schenn, and Read to make major strides. Holmgren, in Sunday's season-ending news conference, said he liked the team's offense and didn't see a major offseason shakeup.

Was it a smokescreen? Maybe.

But if Holmgren believes that, he needs his disappointing trio to have a revival.

And he needs his team to go back on the attack.

Contact Sam Carchidi at Follow on Twitter @BroadStBull.

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