Monday, August 24: New York Islanders 4 – Philadelphia Flyers 0: Islanders lead series 1-0
It was a one-goal game for 40 minutes, but the Philadelphia Flyers never seemed close to having a chance.
Andy Greene’s first playoff goal since April 16, 2010 proved to be the game winner. The New York Islanders’ 4-0 win gave them a 1-0 lead in their second-round playoff series against the Flyers on Tuesday.
Andy Greene. What a rip. pic.twitter.com/ecAhtVxc8Z
— Rob Taub (@RTaub_) August 24, 2020
The Islanders were coming off one extra day of rest after dispatching the Washington Capitals in five games in Round 1. Their intensity was on a completely different level as they swarmed the Flyers in the opening frame, outshooting them 15-4.
🔥Claude Giroux NOT happy with Flyers start in GM1 loss
“First period probably was the worst period we’ve had since we’re in the bubble… The top players have got to play better. I’m obviously one of them. We’ve got to get going here.”
— Jeff Skversky 6abc (@JeffSkversky) August 25, 2020
As captain Claude Giroux pointed out after the game, his team did eventually pick things up. Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov was outstanding in the second period, when the shots were 15-7 for the Flyers. Jean-Gabriel Pageau put the game out of reach when he tallied his fifth of the playoffs at 2:54 of the third.
The game marked the second time in the 2020 postseason that the Flyers have been shut out. After their 5-0 loss against the Montreal Canadiens in Game 2 of their first-round series, Carter Hart responded with two monster games to key 1-0 and 2-0 wins. Philadelphia also bounced back to win the series after a 5-3 defeat in Game 5, so the Flyers still haven’t lost back-to-back games since January.
But as Philadelphia’s postseason sample size grows, there are more than a few points of concern.
During the regular season, the Flyers ranked seventh in the league offensively, scoring 3.29 goals per game. After 10 postseason games, they’re sitting 18th, with just 2.20 goals per game — the fewest of any team that’s still alive. The power play was 14th in the regular season, clicking at 20.8%. In the postseason, it’s ranked 22nd out of 24, with just a 10% success rate.
Scorers Need To Score
During the regular season, the Flyers relied on a scoring-by-committee approach. No player hit a point-per-game rate. Travis Konecny was the closest, with 61 points in 66 games. Sean Couturier, Jakub Voracek, and Claude Giroux were close behind, with point totals in the 50s. Kevin Hayes and James van Riemsdyk were reliable finishers with 21 and 19 goals, respectively.
Despite missing one round-robin game for an undisclosed reason. Voracek has been producing. He has four goals and eight points in nine games. Hayes has also chipped in six points, although he has just one goal and has yet to work the shorthanded magic that we saw in the regular season.
The bigger concerns lie further down, with Couturier (0-5-5), Giroux (0-4-4) and Konecny (0-3-3). In six games, van Riemsdyk is pointless. After suffering a hand injury just before the regular season was paused in March, JVR has been scratched four times in the postseason by Alain Vigneault. When he does play, he’s averaging just 11:50 of ice time per game, more than three minutes below than his regular-season average. A strong power-play contributor over the course of his career, he has yet to connect with the man advantage despite playing more than two minutes a game in that role when he’s in the lineup.
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Shutting The Door
In goal, Hart’s numbers still look good. One Islanders’ goal on Monday was an empty-netter, so his .938 save percentage and 1.86 goals-against average are still among the top numbers in the postseason.
The only problem: the one starter above him who’s still alive is Varlamov, who’s now at a .941 save percentage and 1.50 GAA. This year marks the first playoff appearance in six seasons for the now 32-year-old Russian. It’s his first time in the second round since he was a 20-year-old rookie with the Washington Capitals back in 2009.
Of course, Varlamov is likely benefitting from Barry Trotz’s locked-down defensive system — and the mentorship of goalie coach Mitch Korn, who has been joined at the hip with Trotz dating all the way back to the Nashville Predators’ inaugural season in 1998-99.
During the regular season, the Flyers were a pretty good defensive team themselves. They limited opponents to 28.7 shots per game, lowest in the league. Their 2.77 goals against per game tied them for seventh overall, a hair better than the Islanders’ 2.79.
The Flyers’ shots against haven’t changed much in the playoffs, rising slightly to 28.3. But other teams have now tightened up. Five clubs have been stingier than the Flyers in the postseason, including the Islanders at 25.6 shots per game.
Hart’s great goaltending has helped lower the Flyers’ goals against to 2.00 per game. But the Islanders have them beat there too. Varlamov has played every minute so far for New York. The club’s 1.50 goals against per game leads the league.
Answering The Bell
“Willingness was there. Execution was just a little off tonight.”
— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) August 25, 2020
Vigneault’s group now gets a chance to change the narrative in a hurry. They’ll play back-to-back games against the Islanders when the series continues with an early start on Wednesday at 3 p.m. ET, then a 7 p.m. ET puck drop on Thursday.
Both games will be broadcast on NBCSN and Sportsnet.