Flyers 5: Takeaways from Saturday’s Flyers-Islanders Game
At this point in the season, every point matters. So when the Flyers made a determined effort to erase another deficit, getting the first point was huge in its own right. But it’s about getting the second that matters now. Unfortunately, against one of the top teams in the East Division, the Flyers were unable to do that much.
As is such, there are no moral victories when it comes to playoff races or trying to contend at this point in a season. You either find a way to win or you don’t and that single point still involves a point lost.
That said, there are plenty of moral victories you can find in games like this when you are trying to determine what you have and what you need for the future. The Flyers got lessons in both on Saturday.
Here are five takeaways from Saturday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Islanders.
1. Welcome Back, Carter
If there was one giant positive to take away from this game, even in the shootout loss, it was Carter Hart. The Flyers don’t get this game to overtime without Hart, simple as that.
It was certainly questionable that Hart was making the start after just two games off. It sure felt like the team maybe wanted even more of a reset for Hart than that, but Hart insisted he was ready. He showed it in this game.
The only goal he allowed in the first period was essentially unstoppable, and while Hart technically had just two saves in the period, both were shots that test a goaltender and could have easily been goals against a fragile netminder. Even through two periods, while the numbers weren’t perfect, Hart was still making the challenging saves.
In the final 10 minutes after the Flyers got the game tied up, that was when Hart really shined. This was a confident netminder. His glove hand was outstanding. In the closing moments, Hart had to make two outstanding saves to keep the game tied and get it to overtime.
It’s a longshot for the Flyers to make the playoffs. That’s reality. They shouldn’t just roll over and die because of it, but it would take a miraculous run to do so, given where they are in the standings and what’s ahead. There’s a real chance that by the conclusion of Monday night, their playoff fate will already be decided with 19 games still left on the schedule.
That said, you saw a more confident Carter Hart in goal on Saturday. You heard a more confident Carter Hart after the game. And if he can start to find his form again late in the season, it could set the stage for next season.
2. Captain Rises Up
For all the captain haters out there that like to place blame solely on a guy with a letter, this one’s for you. Hart was the Flyers best player in this game, truly giving them a chance to win. Claude Giroux was their next best player, providing the offense and stapping the team to his back to get the game as far as the shootout.
You can say what you will about Giroux. He’s not a perfect player. He may not even be a great player among the standards of others within the division – and he regularly goes up against two of the most elite players the league has ever seen regularly. But you can’t look at the way he played on Saturday, especially in getting the team back into the game, and say he doesn’t care. You can’t say he’s the problem alone.
Look, when you’ve been the way the Flyers have for the better part of the decade, you need to do some serious looking in the mirror. You need to analyze yourself and be your worst critic harder than ever. There needs to be some potentially significant changes. Perhaps one of them is this: Claude Giroux can’t be your best player in a game by a mile anymore.
That’s not a knock on Giroux or a call to get him off the roster. He's very much the type of player that elite teams need. But at 33 years old, if you are relying on him to carry you through multiple games in a season, you’ll get exactly what the Flyers are at the moment.
Somewhere down the line, Giroux will be more appreciated for his career. For now, the overall team success, the wasted years during his prime, are what will define his career. But on this night, you couldn’t question the leadership at all. Hart and Giroux both carried you to get a point in the standings, and sometimes, your goalie and captain having those kinds of games are all it takes to get a win. The Flyers came close.
3. Special Teams Blend
Early in the game, it was evident that special teams were not on the Flyers side. The Islanders scored a goal on their first power play, which was a bad penalty on the part of Sam Morin. There’s nothing wrong with physicality, but Morin put his team in a bad spot with that one and it cost them.
From there, the Flyers survived another power play, then really seemed to lock things down as Hart got into a zone.
On the power play, the Flyers were 0-for-3, including letting 1:04 of 5-on-3 time go by the wayside. When you hear about the makeup of the team not being right, the power play has a lot to do with it. It took months for the Flyers to reunite Giroux and Jake Voracek on the same unit.
Their unit still insists on using Ivan Provorov as the quarterback, when he’s not the best shooter or puck-mover on the blue line in the lineup. Nolan Patrick doesn’t look like he belongs with that group and it really limits your options when two parts of it are essentially non-threats out there. Provorov isn’t able to keep the puck at the blue line or make the quick reaction passes to really get things moving.
The power play is so often about speed, which is why many teams try to pass so much on the power play. It gets a penalty kill out of position and gives you an open look. But the teams that do that well make quick and sharp passes that ultimately result in a shot. It tires out the PK and can typically lead to a goal.
The Flyers operate too slowly on the power play to do that, so instead of getting quick and effective passes that work, they are being easily read by the penalty kill. It makes it stale and vanilla. If there’s one area where so much doesn’t work, both mix of players and execution, this is it.
4. A Newcomer Debuts
Lost in a lot of this game was the debut of Tanner Laczynski, a sixth-round pick from the 2016 NHL Draft. Laczynski became the first player from the sixth round or later to debut with the Flyers since 2010-11.
It wasn’t a noticeable game for Laczynski, but he did play regularly in his rotation with 8:17 of ice time, including some on the penalty kill, recording one shot on goal, one hit, one blocked shot, and going 3-for-6 in the face-off circle.
Much like the AHL, Laczynski’s game probably won’t come around immediately, especially with such limited ice time, but he gave you very brief glimpses of what he can bring.
5. Big Ones Against Boston
Consider it a blessing that the Flyers have three of their next four games against the Bruins right as the trade deadline approaches. Right now, as it stands, they are four points back of Boston with Boston holding two games in hand. That’s essentially a potential eight-point deficit to make up for the final playoff spot.
Of course, that makes them plenty mathematically alive in the playoff race. But at some point in the next week, the Flyers will get a reality check one way or another. They will either remain very much alive in the race, and do so by playing well against the Bruins, or they will fall farther back and have an even greater deficit.
For example, if the Flyers were to lose both games on Monday and Tuesday in regulation, it’s an eight-point deficit in the standings that is realistically a 12-point margin. The Flyers are not making that up this season and you should start to sell immediately. But win both games in regulation and now the two teams are tied with Boston having four potential points to gain. That’s certainly a margin that can be erased with a bit of a hot streak.
So the timing of these two games couldn’t be better. They will answer everything that needs to be answered for the Flyers. It likely won’t change the way they speak about the playoffs, and it likely won’t make a huge impact on the team at the deadline – it figures to be a more mild trade deadline than usual. But at least it will give the Flyers some sense of direction, which they really need to acknowledge to get their plans not only in-season this season, but next season, in full motion.
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