It’s no secret that the Philadelphia Flyers have had their fair share of struggles this season. They’re 12-11-7 though the first 30 games and are 21st in goals for on the season with a mere 87. They’ve lacked energy and passion for long stretches during this year and their scoring has been effected greatly in the process.
Through all of the team’s misfortunes, it’s easy to forget that there has been a bright spot for the Flyers this season. Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier have produced at elite levels despite the poor performance of their team.
Giroux, over the course of the past few seasons, has fell under the keen, critical eyes of Flyers fans. To their delight, this year he has seemingly returned to his elite form. Giroux has 34 points in 30 games and his confidence is as high as it’s been in years.
Couturier, on the other hand, has finally showed the knack for scoring that made him worth drafting at 8th overall in 2011. He’s scoring at a point per game pace through 30 games and his 15 goals leads the team. In comparison, Couturier has reached the 15 goal mark in a season just one once (2014-15) and he played all 82 games that year. He’s playing his way into talks of a Selke trophy nod for the first time in his career.
Before the season started, the team experimented with a top line of Giroux, Couturier and Jakub Voracek. Though intriguing, the combination never seemed realistic enough to make it to the opening night roster. Lo and behold, Hakstol kept the line together and they’ve been, undoubtedly, one of the top lines in hockey this year. In fact, through 30 games, 35 of the 87 goals scored by the team this year have been from these three players.
Voracek, in recent games, has been moved to the second line in hopes of sparking some better play from the team’s secondary scoring. He’s performed well this season and leads the team in points at 37. Moving Voracek down was a great move despite the top lines effectiveness.
In years past, the Giroux/Voracek combination has gotten stale at times and splitting them up almost always leads to a performance boost for both players. This year though, their separation can be attributed to the fact that Giroux and Couturier are playing so well together that they just cant be pulled apart.
Moving Giroux to the wing and giving him a defensively responsible centerman has revitalized his career. The shift has allowed the captain to focus more on the offensive side of the puck and his point production has exploded as a result.
Couturier has never had a player as talented as Giroux at his side. His confidence that Giroux will be able to pick up any slack in their own end has given him the confidence to make bigger plays in the offensive zone. At the moment, they seem like the perfect shock to each other’s system that they needed.
Despite the combinations outstanding play together, they somehow didn’t manage to make this list of the Top 5 Duos of the season thus far…
— NHL Network (@NHLNetwork) December 14, 2017
For comparisons sake, here are the point productions for each pair this season:
- Stamkos (12/30) & Kucherov (21/21): 84 points
- Malkin (9-19-28) & Kessel (15-22-37): 65 points
- Wheeler (8-30-38) & Scheifele (14-21-35): 73 points
- Gaudreau (12-26-38) & Monahan (17-13-30): 68 points
- Marchand (12-13-25) & Bergeron (5-13-18): 43 points
- Giroux (13-21-34) & Couturier (15-15-30): 64 points
Stamkos and Kucherov have been unbelievable this year and deserve that top spot, hands down. The next three combinations are mostly up for debate. All three have more points than Giroux/Couturier but Gaudreau/Monahan is the only pairing with more goals. The team’s of these middle three pairs have also played at least one game more than the Flyers have this season.
Whether or not the Flyers top pair should take the place of one of those pairings is mostly a matter of opinion. On the other hand, Marchand/Bergeron should have lost their spot to a number of pairings that could’ve potentially made this list. Boston’s top duo has only managed to play in a combined 43 games this season. Sure they’ve put up a point per game in that time, but so have plenty of other pairings this year.
Edmonton’s Connor McDavid and Josh Bailey as well as St. Louis’ Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz could have easily made this list, as well. Both have put up better point per game averages than Marchand/Bergeron and their presence among the top 5 duos of the year could be easily justified. That being said, here is my opinion of who should’ve made the cut.
MY TOP 5 DUOS OF 2017-18:
— Austin Mitchell (@ustincmitchell) December 14, 2017
Across the league, the emergence of Giroux and Couturier as one of the most formidable one-two punches in the league is widely being recognized. They compliment each other’s skill set in ways few could’ve predicted. They’ve also managed to produce at a high level on a team that’s struggled mightily this season.
The Flyers are sailing calmer waters after rocketing out of their 10-game losing streak straight into a 4-game winning streak. The lines have been shaken up and the bottom 9 are finally putting pucks in the net. If Giroux and Couturier can keep up their torrid pace and are given some help in the goals column by the rest of the team, a playoff push through the second half of the season isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
We’ve been waiting a long time to see Couturier’s name in lights Flyers fans. In all honesty, a lot longer than most people would’ve liked. The fact that he’s elevating our beloved captain’s game simultaneously is just an added bonus. Great things are on the horizon for these two, and hopefully for years to come!
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
LET’S GO FLYERS!
Follow @ustincmitchell, the rest of the Philly Sports Network gang and the BRAND NEW Flyers-Only PSN page, @PSN_Flyers!