The Philadelphia Flyers reached the midpoint of their 2020-21 NHL season on Thursday night, beating the New York Islanders 4-3 in the first game of a three-game series.
The result was a relief for fans after the club’s 9-0 shellacking at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday. It was also the first regulation win in two weeks for Philadelphia. That’s crucial when five teams are competing for four playoff spots in the MassMutual East Division.
What Went Right?
After coach Alain Vigneault healthy-scratched Oskar Lindblom against the Rangers on Wednesday, the 24-year-old responded magnificently and was named the game’s first star.
Playing on a new-look line with Claude Giroux and Travis Konecny, Lindblom opened the scoring early in the second period after the Flyers peppered Semyon Varlamov with shots following an Islanders icing call.
— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) March 19, 2021
Giroux and Jakub Voracek added goals of their own before the end of a dominant middle frame, where Philadelphia outshot the Islanders 12-5.
But Barry Trotz’s Islanders, who are known for their tenacity, fought back to tie the game in the third. With the team looking to adjust offensively now that captain Anders Lee is out for the season with a knee injury, New York got goals from Michael Dal Colle and Sebastian Aho — each their first of the season — as well as the seventh of the year from rookie Oliver Wahlstrom.
With the memory of Wednesday’s disaster still fresh, the Flyers deserve credit for keeping their foot on the gas pedal after the score reached 3-3.
As the clock wound down to the end of regulation, Lindblom put his team back in the lead, scoring his second of the night with 2:22 left on the clock.
— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) March 19, 2021
From there, the Flyers limited the pressing Islanders to just two more shots on goal, and handed their opponent its first regulation loss on home ice so far this season.
Lindblom’s linemate Travis Konecny finished the night with three assists. Giroux logged a goal and an assist and was Philadelphia’s best faceoff man, winning 11 of 19 draws.
In net, Carter Hart earned his first regulation win since Feb. 28, stopping 22 of 25 shots one night after giving up four goals in 32:30 of action after he relieved Brian Elliott at Madison Square Garden.
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Thursday’s win left the Flyers still fifth in the East Division, with 33 points in 28 games and a .589 points percentage. Their home and road schedule has been evenly split so far, and delivered similar results — 16 points at Wells Fargo Center and 17 points on the road.
Heading into Friday’s games, Philadelphia is three points behind the fourth-place Bruins, who have also played 28 games. They’re four back of third-place Pittsburgh, with two games in hand. And the Bruins won’t be going anywhere for awhile. Their next two games on Saturday and Tuesday have been postponed due to Covid protocols.
Are the Flyers a playoff team?
According to Sports Club Stats, Thursday’s win increased their odds of making the playoffs by 7.2 percent. But even with that boost, they’ve got just a 23.7 percent chance of reaching the postseason. By comparison, Boston’s at 90.6 percent and Pittsburgh is at 79.7 percent.
Right now, the likeliest outcome is that the Flyers will continue a familiar pattern — make the playoffs one year; miss them the next. That explains why respected hockey insider Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet reported in his 31 Thoughts blog this week that he doesn’t think the Flyers are a front-runner to make a big trade deadline move such as acquiring defenseman Mattias Ekholm.
“Not certain they feel this is the year to pay the cost,” he wrote.
Where Do The Flyers Stand?
The first half of the season can be split pretty neatly into two parts.
In the first 13 games, the club was 8-3-2 despite being without Sean Couturier for most of those games.
Then came the team’s 11-day shutout due to Covid-19.
Since they got back on the ice on Feb. 18, they’ve gone 7-7-0 over the last month. They’re certainly not the only team in this situation. The disruption to the routine, the compressed re-scheduling of games and the fact that a number of key players did test positive and have symptoms have made the road even tougher in a strange, shortened season that already carried so many unique challenges.
The April 12 trade deadline is still three and a half weeks away.
The Flyers play 13 games in those 23 days. A lot can still change — especially if the team can shake off its post-Covid blues and get on a late run like it did last season.
In 2019-20, Philadelphia played 69 games and had a .645 points percentage when the season was paused. At Game 35, they were 19-11-5 for a points percentage of .614. That’s about a point and a half better than their current position — not all that different.
The Flyers now need to build off Thursday’s win. They’ll close out their road swing with another game on Long Island on Saturday. Then, it’s back home for four. Game 3 against the Islanders goes Monday, followed by the Devils on Tuesday and the Rangers on Thursday and Saturday.