Ask anybody who’s been watching the Philadelphia Flyers over the past two weeks who their best line has been and they’ll reply the Sean Couturier, Matt Read, and Steve Downie line. Since Downie returned from the injury he suffered in his first game back as a Flyer, the line has some impressive numbers; a combined 6 goals, 11 assists, for 17 points in 6 games. And if you’re a fan of +/-, a combined +21.
When the Flyers traded for Downie many people weren’t overly enthused. Some viewed it as maintaining the same rough-and-tumble Flyers culture that many people are tiring of by recycling a former Flyer yet again. Others were just upset at giving up on a heart-and-soul type of player in Max Talbot. I was a fan of the trade from the moment it was made as Downie is simply the superior hockey player.
Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review offered this assessment at the time of the trade:
Actual hockey player traded away for Steve Downie? #LOLFlyers
— Dejan Kovacevic (@Dejan_Kovacevic) October 31, 2013
Well, that non-actual hockey player Steve Downie has fit in just fine, thank you.
Since the line was put together for the November 12 game against Ottawa, they have been drawing their opponent’s top lines, as Couturier often does. As is often the case when that happens, they also frequently end up rarely starting shifts in the offensive zone. When you’re starting shifts in your own zone, or even the neutral zone, playing against your opponent’s best players, it’s a tough task.
I pulled the combined numbers for Couturier, Read, and Downie since the line was put together. You can find which opponents they were most frequently matched up against (excluding defenseman), what percentage of their shifts they started in the offensive zone, and how did the shot attempts for versus against come out.
They’ve only had two games in which they lost the puck possession/shot attempt battle. Their first game together against Ottawa is actually surprising considering the Flyers won 5-0 and as a team they out shot attempted Ottawa 51.1% to 48.9%. It’s surprising to see that line so skewed in the other direction, but perhaps there were some growing pains.
The other game where they weren’t on the winning end of the puck possession battle was the 3-2 shootout loss to the Jets. That was a game where the Flyers were thoroughly outplayed from the late second period on, losing the shot attempt battle 61.3% to 38.8%.
As you can see, in each game they were playing the opponent’s top line, and in each game they were being tasked with highly defensive responsibilities with 34.28% being their highest offensive zone start percentage. Collectively they’ve had only 21.95% offensive zone starts and have played to a 49.27% shot attempt differential; which essentially means they are getting about 50% of all shots attempts that occur on the ice when they are on the ice. So for every shot attempt they allow they (more or less) are sure to get one themselves. When you’re playing against your opponent’s top line and frequently starting in your own zone, that’s impressive.
If you told me that the Couturier, Read, and Downie line would start less than one-third of their shifts in the offensive zone against the opponent’s top line and get just as many shot attempts for as they allowed, I’d take it every time.