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Flyers' Couturier, Schenn hurt by deployment

Sean Couturier starts just 26 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone. Brayden Schenn has been shuffled all over the lineup.

Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)Read more

'THEY HAVEN'T produced this year like we wanted them to, for sure," Craig Berube was saying on Monday, referring to Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier. "Brayden ended up being a 20-goal scorer last year. We all thought that it was, not a given, but we thought that he'd be at 20 again. I thought Couturier would probably get to 20 this year, too. And they haven't.''

Put aside the mess Berube made with Steve Mason for a minute. Forget the unnecessary controversy that was stirred up in the year the Flyers finally got consistent goaltending.

Deep-six the misuse of Vinny Lecavalier, the 410-goal scorer who has been frequently benched for Zac Rinaldo in a lineup starved for offense.

No, Berube's most egregious failing with the Flyers this season is the stalled development of its two youngest full-time NHL players.

The Flyers ranked 26th in the NHL this season with 112 points from players ages 24 and younger, according to Canada's Globe and Mail. Only Chicago (110), Los Angeles (104), Vancouver (75) and Pittsburgh (47) got less of a contribution from those aged players - but those teams comprise five out of the last six Stanley Cup winners.

The Flyers devoted just 22 percent of their total ice time (5,088 minutes) to those aged players - the sixth fewest in the league.

It hurts to be both a non-playoff team and at the bottom of those lists. Edmonton (263 points), Florida (240) and Ottawa (254) are likely non-playoff teams, but it's at least possible to see the light.

The Flyers are not a young team. And the deployment of Schenn (23) and Couturier (22) made it difficult to produce.

This year, Berube shuffled Schenn - already playing out of position - up and down, all over the lineup for the first 55 games. Despite that, Schenn is still likely to set a new career high in points (42). Until recently, he was on-pace to become one of 17 players in the league 23-and-under to hit 50 points.

Schenn, however, has less of an excuse for a lack of production than Couturier. Schenn at least spent a good chunk of the season playing with Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek.

Couturier has been asked to play some of the statistically toughest minutes in the league. For the first 67 games, he was also saddled with an injured Matt Read (seven goals) and struggling R.J. Umberger (nine goals).

Neither one of those things should serve as an excuse, according to Berube.

"They get chances," Berube said. "To score goals in this league, you really have to get your nose dirty, getting to those hard areas and really being competitive around the net. That's the difference, for me."

Consider: Couturier started just 26 percent of his even-strength shifts in the offensive zone (260 out of 1,017). He started 360 in the neutral zone and 397 in his own zone. Just Giroux (433) and Nick Schultz (422) began more in the Flyers' end. That means Couturier started 127 more shifts in his own end than defenseman Andrew MacDonald.

Only 15 forwards in the league have more defensive-zone starts than Couturier this season, and only one of them (Calgary's Sean Monahan) is younger than him.

Despite that, Couturier still managed to be somewhat close to even (863-of-1,790, 48.2 percent) in shot attempts for and against while on the ice, and had a positive giveaway-to-takeaway ratio (22-24).

Putting all of that in perspective - not just the zone starts, but that they were against opponents' top lines - his nine goals and 11 assists for 20 points are respectable. The thinking is his offensive production would shoot up with more balanced usage.

Couturier's talent is usually on full display on nights like tonight, against Sidney Crosby and the Penguins. He's held Crosby to just one assist in his last five games against the Flyers, and has one goal and four assists himself in those same games. Crosby has 75 points in 50 games against the Flyers in his career.

"I don't know the percentages, but I know a lot of the time we're in our own end," Couturier said. "Given the situation you're put in, it's always tougher to get those scoring chances. When you finally get them, sometimes you're 40 seconds into a shift and it's a lot tougher to [convert]. You kind of get used to it."

When Berube was asked point-blank if Couturier's production is damaged by his deployment, he waffled.

"Ehh. I think it plays into it a little bit," Berube said. "I've made a conscious effort in the second half of the season to start him more in the offensive zone. He's got a job to do. And he does it very well. He plays against the other team's top lines. He's got to find a way to produce more and do that. It's a big job, but he's capable of doing it. That's why we use him that way."

Checking the numbers, Berube is only partially telling the truth. In the first 41 games, Couturier had 130 offensive-zone starts (3.17 per game). He has 130 in the last 35 games (3.71), but his defensive-zone starts have actually gone up at the same time (209 compared to 188), leaving a negative net change. He is on-pace to finish with 12 more defensive-zone starts in the second half of the year compared to the first.

While being criticized by his coach for lack of scoring, would Couturier like to play a more balanced workload for just one stretch of the year?

"Obviously, yeah," Couturier said. "That's what we're mostly here for, to try and score some goals. When you start in the offensive zone, you have more chances. Coming out of junior, that's what I was used to. I still haven't gotten the opportunity yet. I guess that comes with years and experience. I'm still only 22. I can't complain because I still play a lot. I'm still learning and hopefully I can get a little more chances."

Data source:

Slap shots

Sidney Crosby is shooting for his 300th career goal tonight. He is 27 years and 237 days old. By comparison, Alex Ovechkin netted his 300th goal on April 5, 2011 at 25 years and 200 days old, becoming the sixth youngest do so (Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Dale Hawerchuk, Mike Bossy and Steve Yzerman). Ovechkin is now 28 goals shy of 500 . . . The Penguins are expected to go with five defensemen, with Kris Letang and Christian Ehrhoff out with suspected concussions . . . Mark Streit returned to the team from Switzerland, where he spent the weekend saying goodbye to his ailing, 99-year-old grandmother.