Flyers-Islanders Observations: Long Night on the Island
The Flyers had a lot of momentum following a five-goal third period and comeback win over Columbus on Saturday night. It carried over into Sunday's game at the start. Just 67 seconds in, Jake Voracek was on the board and the Flyers were off and running.
Perhaps the Islanders slept through the first shift of the game, giving up the puck on a turnover and the glorious chance for Voracek to put the Flyers in front. From there, nothing was easy for the Flyers offensively and the Islanders gave them a taste of their own medicine with physical play and a tenacious forecheck.
It worked to the tune of a 5-3 result in favor of the Islanders, turning the Flyers quick start into a long night on Long Island.
Here are some observations from the Flyers loss to the Islanders.
The story of the night was the Flyers play on defense. This was an atrocious game for the blue liners collectively.
The pair that got the most attention was the duo of Shayne Gostisbehere and Sam Morin. There was some belief that Gostisbehere's goal in the third period on Saturday, the shining moment of an otherwise poor game, was the release of a lot of frustration and a breakthrough for the defenseman. The same bad habits and poor puck decisions was back for this game. The most notable was Gostisbehere's choice to jump into the play and getting caught ahead of the Islanders fifth goal. With Morin as the last line of defense between the goalie, it was way too risky and Gostisbehere paid the price.
As for Morin, there was a lot worse than his play on Mathew Barzal as he raced past and scored the Islanders final goal of the game. Morin made three mistakes on the play, first drifting over to Gostisbehere's side of the ice that had been vacated. Morin goes too far and loses his angle. He also loses any speed he had in trying to get over by trying to poke check the puck with his stick. This opens up the lane and Barzal goes speeding through to get behind Morin and beats Carter Hart through the five-hole. Morin was given a chance in his first game of the season to show he can be used regularly and maybe even have the potential to take a regular spot. He didn't come close to achieving that.
But let's not spotlight this duo for the rest of the defensive miscues. Justin Braun and Travis Sanheim were on the ice for a pair of goals against. On Ross Johnston's goal, Sanheim shies away from a hit from Oliver Wahlstrom. The split-second decision allows Cole Bardreau to get to the puck and center for Johnston for the goal.
Ivan Provorov and Matt Niskanen were also suspect to turnovers and poor puck decisions and also caught on the ice for multiple goals.
Overall, it was just a poor game defensively with way too many breakdowns. It was honestly a miracle that the Islanders didn't finish the game with at least one or two more goals.
As the Flyers struggled defensively, you could also see that something was off with Carter Hart as well. Hart had entered the game allowing seven goals on his last 29 shots. He allowed five on 14 in Sunday's game. That's a .721 save percentage.
But what was concerning about Hart was that he really looked as out of sorts as ever before. His tracking was off. His rebound control wasn't good. He was struggling to make saves on pucks he should be tracking.
Long-term, there is nothing to be concerned with. Hart is a 21-year-old goalie with a long career ahead of him. But in the early going of his second NHL season, he's certainly hit a bit of a wall.
Elliott Cleans Up
Give Brian Elliott a lot of credit. He was one of the few bright spots in this game.
Elliott had already played on Saturday and got the win in a game he felt he didn't deserve the decision. He made 22 saves on 26 shots in that contest.
On Sunday, entering in relief, he made 19 saves, stopping every shot he faced. There were many Grade-A chances for Elliott to face, and to his credit, he kept the game within striking distance in the early moments of the third when a three-goal rally still seemed somewhat possible.
Elliott certainly has been the hot hand of late. To be sure, there is no goalie controversy. Both were going to get work and will continue to get work. But the decision for the next game on Tuesday is now certainly more complicated.
Hayes Continues Strong Play
If there was any position player who was a standout, it was Kevin Hayes. Hayes continued his run of strong play, really helping to drive chances and set up opportunities.
It probably will not last throughout the season, but Hayes centering the third line offers a lot of depth and allows him to be on the ice in situations where he can potentially create an opportunity.
The Flyers were on a three-game winning streak entering the game and aside from a low-shooting, tight-checking night in Calgary, the Flyers have really outplayed every team they have faced. Even the advanced stats will say the Flyers were the better possession team in this game.
That may not feel true with a 5-3 result and shouldn't. If the Flyers 6-3 loss in Edmonton wasn't really as bad as the score indicated, this 5-3 result was a game where the score makes it feel much closer than it was.
Regardless, this was the second of four straight games against Metro opponents, a good measuring stick for the team at the start of the season. Next up is the cross-state rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins. This would be a great spot for the Flyers to make a statement that Sunday's game was just an anomaly and not the makeup and identity of this team under Alain Vigneault.