January 23, 2018

Sean Couturier is dominating ... five games at a time

Flyers NHL
012318_flyers_usat Eric Hartline/Eric Hartline

Sean Couturier celebrates his goal with teammates during a game earlier this season against the Washington Capitals at Wells Fargo Center.

Sean Couturier has already eclipsed many of his personal scoring highs this season, and if he keeps it up, he should shatter them.

Couturier is on a projected pace to score 45 goals and hand out 37 assists this year. Through 47 games, he’s been building on an ongoing personal-record of 26 goals and 21 assists, for 47 points. His 26 goals place him fourth in the NHL in goals scored, tied with the New York Islanders’ John Tavares. His plus-17 lead the Flyers in the plus-minus category, and his importance to the Flyers bares out in the plus-28 (16 goals, 14 assists) in the 23 games the Flyers have won.

Coach Dave Hakstol’s decision to move Couturier from a checking line to the first line has been brilliant.

“Couturier has been a huge positive,” Flyers and NBC hockey analyst Keith Jones said. “I thought he could score more than 25 goals this season, and now with the way he’s playing, he might reach 40. He’s being mentioned now as a Frank J. Selke Trophy-type of player (that goes to the league’s best defensive player, though good offensive numbers have historically helped).

“It’s fair to say Couturier is in there with guys like Patrice Bergeron, Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Toews. Couturier has been asked to produce more offensively and he has.”

A reason is Couturier’s patient attitude. The Flyers are 7-2 in January. Couturier has at least one point in six of the Flyers’ last nine games.

“I am shooting the puck more this year, and obviously, I’m getting more chances, but I can’t get away from shooting the puck,” said Couturier, whose previous bests were 15 goals in 2014-15 and 26 assists during the 2013-14 season. “There are no bad shots in this league. You just have to keep putting the shots on net and create something off of it.

“Early on in my career, I was playing top line minutes, facing top lines, but my role was more around trying to create momentum and trying to control the play, and not give up anything. That’s what I was trying to focus on with the role I had. What’s happening now isn’t a surprise, how fast that it’s been going.

“I always knew that I could produce more in this league. It’s just getting chances after chances, and capitalizing on them right now. I also think what’s helped is not setting my goals so large, where I’m looking at a set number. I try not to think about a total. What’s helped me is trying to think more about a small amount of games, five-game segments at a time. You give yourself personal goals, because it’s a long year. You can’t think too far ahead. It can get frustrating and you can get a little too ahead of yourself.”

So Couturier will keep his focus on the short-term goals — while scoring more goals.

“So far it’s been working,” he said

No one is debating that.