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Flyers 4, Islanders 0: 10 things we learned from an afternoon treat

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Back home in Philadelphia, the Flyers systematically took apart an undermanned Islanders squad. Which players particularly stood out?

Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Morning Observations is a new feature, where we break down the previous night's game with an analytical eye.

  • There was very little to criticize about the Flyers' performance yesterday against the New York Islanders. From the opening puck drop, Philadelphia was relentless in all three zones - patient in the offensive zone, stifling in the neutral zone, and crisp in the defensive zone. To focus on neutral zone play, the Islanders simply did not have any room to breathe through the entirety of the contest, and they were forced to resort to dump-and-chase hockey to get the puck into the Flyers' end at all. The backchecking by the Flyers was particularly noticeable - New York had little time to make plays because Philadelphia forwards were always nipping at their heels as they tried to move forward. That's primarily due to effort, and the Flyers were certainly not lacking in that area yesterday.
  • Even in their strong performances over the past month, the Flyers have often been guilty of slow starts from a puck possession standpoint. Yesterday afternoon, their start couldn't have been faster. The Islanders barely sniffed the offensive zone through the first five minutes of play, taking only two shot attempts at Steve Mason. Somehow, Philadelphia was unable to score a goal during the first period even though they outshot the Islanders 11-2, but they would make up for that later. Still, the fast start put New York on their heels early, and they were never really able to recover.

  • Not to take anything away from the strong play of the Flyers yesterday, but the New York Islanders put on a particularly pathetic display of hockey. Missing Travis Hamonic and Johnny Boychuk on the back end definitely didn't help, but the Islanders' issues went far beyond two injured players. Their play in the defensive zone was especially awful, both in terms of winning puck battles and general positioning. The best example of New York's defensive zone follies came on Evgeny Medvedev's goal in the second period. Brian Strait decided to abandon his spot in front of the net to chase down Matt Read, and neither of the Islanders forwards on the play felt the need to replace him down low. As a result, Medvedev was able to skate right in on Jaroslav Halak uncontested, which should never occur during a cycle in the offensive zone. That's a mistake that pee wee hockey players don't make.
  • It was a crime that the top line of Jakub Voracek, Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds did not make it onto the scoresheet yesterday, as their performance was everything that Dave Hakstol likely envisioned when he grouped his three best scorers together as a unit. The trio combined for seven high-danger scoring chances, and each player approached a 60% Corsi For percentage. It's always been a line that works great in theory - Voracek as the forward who gains entry into the zone, Simmonds wins battles down low and creates havoc in the crease, and Giroux gets to set up shop and use his elite vision to create scoring chances. With the other three lines actually providing offense right now, Hakstol has taken the opportunity to experiment with this trio, and yesterday's game provided a glimpse into just how dangerous the combination can be. The goals will come.
  • I may not have agreed with Dave Hakstol's decision to scratch Matt Read and then Evgeny Medvedev in consecutive nights, but both players look extra motivated right now. Following his scratching, Read mentioned that his game had become "complacent," and that he planned to focus on that when he made his way back into the lineup. Three points and five shots on goal definitely qualifies as being engaged with the play. Medvedev's scratching may have been due to the Los Angeles Kings wanting one last look at Luke Schenn before pulling the trigger on a deal, but he too has responded with stellar play. And with Shayne Gostisbehere's injury deemed to be minor, Medvedev should soon see an uptick in offensive opportunities at even strength if that pairing is reunited, which seems likely.
  • It's getting to the point where I'm surprised if I don't have to single out Sean Couturier for another strong game in my observations post. Couturier now has twelve points in his last ten games, while continuing to post fantastic possession statistics on a nightly basis. I expect to have an article written about this topic next week, but I'll tease the content a couple of days early - Couturier is making a viable case to be considered as a nominee for the Selke Trophy, given to the best two-way forward in the NHL. All of his rate statistics at even strength are stellar, and he's still receiving the toughest minutes of any Flyers forward. He almost certainly won't continue to score at a point per game rate, but at age-23, Sean Couturier appears to ready for the next step in his development, when he adds tangible point production to his arsenal of skills.
  • One minor quibble from yesterday's victory - the Flyers' power play did struggle, failing to light the lamp despite multiple opportunities. Now, Michael Raffl did score shortly after an Islanders penalty had expired, and one of their "power plays" lasted only three seconds, but only one high-danger scoring chance created in over six minutes with the man advantage simply is not going to cut it. Luckily, there is an obvious explanation for the power play's struggles - the absence of Shayne Gostisbehere. Mark Streit is a solid PP quarterback, but he simply cannot replicate the dynamic skating and shooting of Gostisbehere from the point. Ghost could return as soon as Wednesday night against the Bruins, so expect a far more threatening power play once he is back.
  • Brandon Manning may have been the worst Flyer from a Corsi standpoint (44.44%), but I remained impressed with the defenseman in his return to the lineup. In the first period, Manning was one of the best Flyers on the ice, particularly in the offensive zone. He was jumping into the play with regularity, and even creating scoring chances for his team. Manning became something of a whipping boy for fans this season, but his play on the whole has not been terrible. At the start of the season, he struggled mightily with his puck handling and defensive zone exits, but around mid-November he began cleaning up that issue. He'll never be confused for a dynamic puck mover, but if he can avoid turnovers and hold steady in the face of incoming forecheckers, Manning's above-average neutral zone play can allow him to be a useful third pairing defenseman in the NHL.
  • I've been one of the biggest critics of the third line centered by Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, so it's only fair that I credit them for a particularly effective game yesterday. It was actually a low-event game for the line - there were only ten shot attempts from both teams when the trio of Bellemare, Chris VandeVelde and Ryan White were on the ice. But that's because they spent so much time in the offensive zone, cycling and pressuring the Islanders defense. The big issue for the line this season has been defensive zone play, but even that wasn't an issue yesterday, as their zone exits were clean and efficient. Now, it's up to them to deliver extended stretches across weeks at a time that resemble their play against New York. A unit performing like that would truly deserve third line ice time.
  • The Flyers' top pairing has been obvious for quite a while now - Michael Del Zotto and Radko Gudas have staked out a convincing claim for the job. Both players were afterthoughts for their previous teams, as Nashville chose to not qualify MDZ as a restricted free agent, and Gudas was basically a throw-in piece in the Braydon Coburn trade. Somehow, the Flyers have turned these misfit toys into a top pairing, and against all odds, they've been very effective. Going into yesterday's game, they had posted a 56.5% Corsi For percentage together, and that only went up after both members of the pairing finished over 65% against New York.