Last Thursday, the Flyers lost in regulation to the Minnesota Wild in a game where they deserved at least one point, as they dominated the elite 5v5 club and only fell due to a last-minute defensive breakdown.
Tonight, they got that point back.
The New York Islanders are quickly making a case as a newly-elite Eastern Conference squad, and the Flyers got a first-hand look at their greatly-improved Metropolitan Division rivals tonight. The Isles generated a whopping 75 shot attempts, including 46 shots on goal, and should have locked this game up long before the third period buzzer sounded.
Luckily for the Flyers, Steve Mason was not about to allow that to happen.
Mason gets a fair amount of criticism in the Flyers blogosphere, and we at BSH certainly have joined that chorus at times. But the Flyers goaltender has unarguably had his fair share of monster games in the Orange and Black, with Game 7 in last year's postseason series against the Rangers as his most memorable such performance.
He may have been even better tonight.
The Islanders came at him in waves, controlling the neutral zone and preventing the Flyers from exiting the defensive zone with possession. As a result, Mason would often have little time to catch his breath between high quality chances. Still, he found a way to make 46 saves and take the game all the way to a shootout.
The shootout may still be infuriating, but it's impossible to feel like the Flyers were cheated out of a victory tonight due to the skills competition. If not for Mason, this game would have been over by the midpoint of the second period, if not sooner.
Nine more observations on the game:
- All of the Flyers' major roster issues were on display tonight. Philadelphia often struggles to exit the defensive zone successfully and with possession of the puck, and their defensemen concede the blue line far too easily, allowing for controlled entries into the zone. Sometimes, the Flyers can minimize one or more of those issues in a game via solid execution and sustained offensive zone time. Tonight, it was simply a perfect storm of terrible.
- Interestingly enough, the Flyers' defensemen did not do a terrible job without the puck in the defensive zone. With a few exceptions, they avoided screening Mason, blocked lot of shots and stayed in their lanes. The problem, as previously mentioned, was when those d-men (and forwards) had the puck on their sticks in the defensive zone.
- By the end of the third period the forwards were obviously gassed, which resulted in minimal offensive zone time when the team did actually get the puck into the Islanders' zone. Craig Berube's decision to dress only 11 forwards surely didn't help, either.
- Seems like the only way to keep the Giroux/Voracek combo off the scoresheet is to keep the Flyers off the scoresheet entirely.
- This Islanders team will be a lot of fun to watch when they are not playing against the Flyers. They're content to trade chances because they're banking on their talented forwards and an aggressive forecheck to give them the edge in shot volume and chance quality, which makes for a very exciting team. I don't think their early season success is a fluke.
- I'm not sure if Steve Mason owes Braydon Coburn money or something, but the Flyers' defenseman seems intent upon scaring the heck out of his goalie a couple times a game. After an accidental head shot on Saturday, Coburn initiated two collisions with his goalie tonight. The latter, which occurred when Coburn knocked John Tavares into his goalie, resulted in Mason staying down on the ice for a bit before shaking off the effects.
- In maybe the only non-Mason related positive of the night, the Flyers penalty kill looked very strong, stopping the Islanders on three opportunities. Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier in particular looked like their old selves on the PK.
- Out of the Flyers' seven defensemen, four received over 18 minutes of even strength ice time, and three received less than 14:30 minutes. It looks like Berube's top-four right now is Braydon Coburn, Andrew MacDonald, Michael Del Zotto and Mark Streit, with Nick Schultz, Luke Schenn and Nicklas Grossmann jockeying for third pairing minutes once the Flyers inevitably begin dressing 12 forwards again.
- Scott Laughton didn't have a very good possession game (-14 5v5 Corsi), but I remain very impressed with his work in the defensive zone so far in the NHL. The scouting report always called him a two-way center, but generally there's a bit of an adjustment period for young forwards in terms of coverage and adjusting to the speed of the game. Laughton looks surprisingly comfortable.
Comment of the Night
Christ even their fourth line can hem in the Lecavalier line.