There is a player that has been noticeably absent from the Philadelphia Flyers this season. He is 5’10”, 185 lbs., a pretty accurate right-handed shot, and a strong two-way player whose contributions are both underrated and under-appreciated. This guy has put up 20 goals, or has been on pace to put up 20 goals anyway, in all of his previous seasons in the NHL and has done so while taking the hardest minutes of anyone on the team not named Sean Couturier. That player is Matt Read.
Now I know what you’re thinking: “Nick, Matt Read has played in all 17 games for Philadelphia this season.” While there is a lot of hockey left to play in the 2014-2015 regular season, Read’s just looked like he’s had a tough go of it as of late. He has just one goal over his last 10 games and hasn’t looked like his usual, underrated, under-appreciated, productive-self. Why is that?
Read has started just 37.7% of every shift he has taken in this year in the offensive zone at 5-on-5. Now while that doesn’t mean that he’s started every shift in the defensive zone, forcing he and his line-mates to skate all 200 feet to create scoring chances, but it does mean that they need to enter the other team’s zone with the puck (or dump in and regain possession) in order to generate real, tangible offensive opportunities. Considering Read is often paired with Couturier and they do take tougher assignments on a shift by shift basis, but what’s troubling is the amount of times this line is forced to take face-offs outside of the offensive zone because the numbers for Read in that area the last three regular seasons? 50.5% in 2011-2012, 47.0% in the shortened 2012-2013 season, and 42.9% last year. Why is this troubling?
Under Peter Laviolette, Read played well and was given a higher amount of offensive zone starts. Under Craig Berube that number has dwindled from 42.9% down to 37.7% which is down about 10% from where he was under Laviolette. Despite those numbers, when Read is on the ice, his line still winds up in the offensive zone 45.6% of the time through 17 games, up a whole half a percentage point from last season. We all know that Read is a solid, two-way winger who can put up points and play a stifling defensive game when he and Couturier are paired. They play well together and most of us would probably like to see continue them be successful for a long time, but these numbers are ridiculous. You can’t start only one line outside the offensive zone that much and expect them to be offensively productive. Regardless of how good a line is at defending, you have to even out the load if you’re going to play them 13-14 minutes a night at full strength.
Now even with all of what is stacked against Read, he still has two goals and five assists for seven points. Read has two fewer goals than he did at this point last season, but has one more point. That means that, just like last year, things can turn around. If Read can start finding the back of the net with frequency closer to his career averages and this early season slump will be forgotten. His shooting percentage is down and while I hate that statistic for ice hockey because there are so many factors that play into why a puck doesn’t hit the back of the net like a 6’0″ guy with bulky padding on whose sole job it is to prevent the puck from going in or whatever, Read’s is only 7.1% right now where his career average hovers around the 15% mark… I digress… What has become abundantly clear is that the way that Couturier and Read are utilized, it seems as if the team will have trouble getting the numbers they want or need from these two players. That could be rectified if the shifts that start in the defensive zone were dispersed more evenly throughout the lineup, but it looks as though as long as Craig Berube is coaching this team, there is no way those numbers will improve.