The Flyers opened their series against the Islanders with expectations that their play would rise up to match a higher level opponent. Instead, their presence on the ice was largely ornamental for the first period in an overall disappointing loss.
The Islanders are no slouch opponent. The Canadiens were and the Flyers made them look like a legitimate playoff team, rather than the 24th best team in the league. The Islanders were a team that was a point out of playoff contention with 10 games left to play. They have an elite forward in Mathew Barzal, an incredibly balanced lineup throughout with consistent scorers like Anders Lee, Brock Nelson, Jordan Eberle and Josh Bailey, young talents like Anthony Beauvillier, and acquired talent from the deadline in J.G Pageau. Any team loaded with guys like these is going to be pretty dangerous. What sets the Islanders apart though is their punishing defense and the masterful coaching they receive from Barry Trotz.
They are like a boa constrictor if that snake also had venomous fangs. Those fangs struck early, but in the form on Andy Greene. The steady stalwart of the Devils defense was moved to the Islanders this season and he managed to rifle an early slapshot passed Carter Hart. Ironically Greene’s last goal was 10 years ago, against Brain Boucher, who was in between the benches. Brock Nelson secured the assist.
The Flyers wouldn’t allow any more goals in that period, but that is only because of Carter Hart. He made 25 total saves in the game and none better than in the 1st period where he made a sprawling glove save on Brock Nelson. The Flyers as a team though were outskated by the Islanders and dominated physically. Every play the Flyers tried to make was rushed, and every Flyers defenseman who went back for a puck took a hit. The forwards similarly were roughed up whenever they were in the zone.
As bad as the Flyers were in the 1st period, they seemed to turn things around somewhat in the 2nd period. After being outshot 15-4 in the 1st, in the 2nd they had the 15 to 7 shot advantage. They were able to find their way through the minefield that the Isles turn the neutral zone into and retrain possession in the offensive zone, but their shots too often were unscreened and ended up in the chest of Semyon Varlamov. Travis Konecny had the most shots of any forward with 4, and looked alive for the first time in a few games, but was unable to convert. Phil Myers, Ivan Provorov, and Justin Braun paced the defense.
The third period is where it all slipped away for the Flyers. The pair of Myers and Sanheim got overpowered behind the net and Sean Couturier drifted out of his position (and had an uncharacteristically bad game) and left JG Pageau all lone in front who easily beat Carter Hart. Hart was hung out to dry by his team on that one for sure, and having it come early in the period was instantly deflating.
Six minutes later the top line of Barzal, Lee, and Eberle combined for a beautiful goal. Eberle got the puck to Barzal, who pushed Niskanen wide, and opened the middle lane for Lee who beat his backchecking and had a tap it after the beautiful pass from Barzal came in.
The 4th goal was just plain weird. Alain Vigneault pulled Hart in favor of the extra attacker with around 7 minutes left, and Islanders defender Devon Toews simply just cleared the puck as the Flyers were trying to get their extra man involved. The puck bounced off the boards and found its way into the waining cage. That would be the final score, as the Islanders cruised to a 4-0 victory that looked far too easy for a playoff game.
The Flyers will have to find a way to compete with the speed and physicality that the Islanders bring if they want to get back into this series. The offensive issues also need to be sorted out. In the 7 games they’ve played now since the quarterfinals, they’ve scored 11 goals. The offense is anemic and the top six forwards, other than Voracek are worthy of the brunt of the criticism. The defense also has to play a lot better. The top two pairs need to communicate better and the third pair was lucky not to have goals scored against them.
Game 2 is Wednesday and it is hopefully a whole new story.