Flyers 5: Takeaways From Game 1 of Flyers-Islanders
Game 1 of a playoff series is a chance to make a first impression. It’s a chance to see what a team has and what a team maybe does not have. In this particular case, the Islanders showed they are a team that has a lot - the talent behind the bench, the depth up front, the defensive structure and the goaltender to get the job done.
The Flyers did not show what they wanted to show. They did not show they have another level. They showed their flaws.
When there are eight teams left in the playoffs, it isn’t going to be a cakewalk. Very seldom do teams find a way to play perfect games throughout a series. It’s what makes the playoffs a journey.
Still, the Flyers did not come close to looking like the team they were when they entered the bubble, and it’s the reason they will play from behind in this series.
Here are 5 takeaways from Game 1 of Flyers-Islanders.
1. Finding Another Level
For the last few days, we heard Chuck Fletcher, Alain Vigneault, Sean Couturier, Travis Konecny and more say that this team had another level to reach with their play. Fletcher went so far as to say that this team may need to reach it to be able to advance.
After Game 1, that’s very evident.
For all of the talk, the Flyers did not come close to hitting that level. There were flashes of what they can do, but this team is clearly frustrated in a lot of areas.
Look, the 4-0 is not as bad as it looks on the surface. One of the goals is an empty-net tally because Vigneault decided to get creative with nothing to lose and see if pulling the goalie with eight minutes left could cut the margin to two. It didn’t work and you have to live with that.
The issue with the team not showing signs of hitting that next level is in the execution. It came at both ends of the ice. You want to see crisp entries and exits from both zones. You got a taste of that in the second period, but ultimately, the sloppiness still remains. Teams that look this sloppy don’t have long lifespans in the playoffs.
Additionally, you need top players to start stepping up in huge ways. Jake Voracek may be the only player who gets a pass, after putting up seven points in the six-game series against Montreal. The rest, though, need to be better.
Sean Couturier had one of the worst games he’s played all season, offensively and defensively. Claude Giroux once again left a lot to be desired from his performance. Scott Laughton looks flat-out lost lately. Kevin Hayes and Travis Konecny at least created some opportunities and possession time, but still can’t finish, and in spots where one goal can make all the difference, it needs to start happening. James van Riemsdyk can’t even get into the lineup.
That list is too long and all of them have something to prove in these upcoming games. For most of the season, the Flyers depth and top players were highly touted for continuing to step up and play a solid game day in and day out. Now they really need to show it, because this series will be quick without it.
2. Flat from the Start
When you face a new opponent for the first time in a while, especially to start a playoff series, there may be a feeling out process for both sides. It certainly looks like that’s what the Flyers expected, and they got the opposite from the Islanders, who just drove it down their throats for the opening 20 minutes.
If not for Carter Hart, this game could have easily been a 4-0 margin in the opening 20 minutes.
Don’t let the score fool you - Hart was spectacular. After allowing a long-range goal through a screen six minutes into the first, the Islanders just kept coming in waves and the Flyers could not get out of their own way. Hart was left out to dry again, only this time stayed in there and kept the margin at one.
It gave the Flyers a real chance to potentially steal this game and for the next 20 minutes, it looked like they might.
But the starts to games for the rest of the series absolutely have to be better, because the Islanders probably didn’t even really bring their best at the Flyers that early and just capitalized off of turnovers and disrupted breakouts.
3. Build on the Second Period
If the Flyers could have replicated their second period in the third, we may be sitting here talking about a Flyers win in Game 1.
The Flyers applied pressure in waves, dominated the possession game and looked as close to the team we saw in Round Robin games as we had since the first round started. The Flyers outshot the Islanders, 15-7, for the period and had the first eight shots of the period. It felt like if they could just get one, the floodgates may open.
That wasn’t to be the case. Semyon Varlamov was flawless and the Islanders played a really tight defensive game from there.
But that’s the period the Flyers need to take from this game and build on. They did some good things in the second period, and played the way you have to against the Islanders. They rarely allowed a chance for the Islanders to even sniff the offensive zone, and while the Islanders got a few good chances, the Flyers were the better team in that period and had the game within their grasp going to the third. From there, it did all fall apart, but at least this wasn’t a complete domination of a game and there were moments where the Flyers looked like they could compete.
4. Setting the Tone
Despite the strong second period, the third period was the real difference maker. Sure, the Flyers need to be better at the start and they can build on the second period, but the third is where the flaws loomed large and showed just how easily the Islanders can dominate this series if the Flyers don’t do some major repair work on their execution.
The second goal for the Islanders was a prototypical goal for that group. They aren’t the strongest possession team, so they employ the dump and chase method a lot. Both defensemen for the Flyers go into the corner lightly and lose battles. Travis Sanheim loses the puck battle as he gets bodied by Ross Johnston. Leo Komarov also boxes out Phil Myers and takes control of the puck from Johnston’s feet. As that is happening, both Couturier and Giroux are skating through the zone aimlessly and leave the front of the net vacated. This is really Couturier’s assignment, but Giroux could have picked up on it as well. Neither did, and Jean-Gabriel Pageau went to the net and finished from a spot where he has so many times before.
On the third goal, the Flyers don’t gain control off a zone entry and get caught with three men deep. That sends the Islanders the other way on a three-on-two. Jordan Eberle leads the rush and draws Ivan Provorov as he should. Matt Niskanen draws over to play Mathew Barzal, when he should be left for Hart to have a clear path at the shot. Instead, Niskanen’s drifting allows Barzal to make another pass and Anders Lee is wide open for the quick release and gets it by Hart. Just over eight minutes into the third, it was game over with that goal.
The Flyers had a chance to set the tone in this game, win or lose. They could have won with what wasn’t their best effort or lost with much more of the game they had displayed in Round Robin. They did neither.
Meanwhile, the Islanders played their game and gave you a healthy dose of what you’ll get in the rest of the series. This is Islanders hockey. It’s about creating a force field around the front of the net, not allowing many chances, not necessarily dominating the possession, but taking advantage of opportunities when they come, whether that is off winning puck battles or taking charge on transition plays.
You really saw it all from the Islanders, and they certainly set the tone for this series with a huge statement early.
5. No Time to Feel Sorry
For the third time in the playoffs, the Flyers lost a game, so that means we’re going to hear that stat again.
It has been since early January that the Flyers have lost back-to-back games. For their sake, they need that streak to continue.
Game 2 comes on Wednesday afternoon, and there’s no time for the frustration that was clearly visible as the game progressed. There’s no time to feel sorry for yourself. There are three more games to come in the next four and a half days. You best be ready to go to work and fix the areas that need fixing. Because if you don’t, the series will be over before it really gets started.
Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN and Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.