Over the final quarter of the season last year, the Flyers were nearly unwatchable. The losses mounted, star players disappointed and frustration hit a boiling point when the team failed to qualify for the playoffs for the second time in the last three seasons.
However, one of the few bright spots was the surprising play, on defense and offense, of Sean Couturier. The typically defensive-minded forward quietly finished the season playing the best hockey of his career with 17 points and a plus-18 rating over the last 20 games.
Couturier, centering the top line between Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek this fall, has picked up where he left off. He scored his fourth goal of the season during Tuesday’s 5-1 win over the Panthers, has four assists and is tied for the league lead in plus / minus at plus-9 through six games.
“I don’t know about a carryover. I don’t know if that’s possible,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said on Tuesday. “He was playing really good hockey for us towards the end of last year. No question he has done the same thing this year. He has been a real positive for us and for the team.”
Couturier has basically lived as a third-line center with the Flyers and been tasked with shutting down the opposition’s best players. However, Hakstol bumped him to the top line with Giroux and Voracek in training camp and levied more offensive responsibilities on Couturier. What originally looked like a preseason experiment has remained in tack but also grown into a dangerous trio.
The line has a combined 25 points, including 10 in Saturday’s romp over the Capitals, during the team’s 4-2 start. Giroux and Voracek, who had poor seasons in 2016-17, credit Couturier’s presence for their hot starts to this season.
“Couturier is a very responsible guy that plays very good on both sides of the puck and it shows,” Voracek told reporters earlier in the week. “He creates more space for me and [Giroux] on offense.”
Although the front office was fully aware of Couturier’s defensive skills since he was drafted eighth overall in 2011, they’ve always envisioned him as a difference-maker at the other end of the ice as well. Afterall, he scored 41 and 36 goals in his final two years in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
The breakout season on offense the Flyers have been waiting for from him may have finally arrived – and got kick-started last February.
“I think they bring a lot to my game, and I can bring something to their game,” said Couturier, who didn’t score his fourth goal until game 14 last season. “So far, it’s been working pretty good.”