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What we learned: Flyers vs. Islanders in Allentown

Start your day off with some observations from last night’s game in Lehigh Valley

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at New York Islanders Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

Gathering some observations on the Flyers’ matchup against the Islanders, from the PPL Center in Allentown.

1. First period woes

To start, let’s talk about the rough start that was last night’s first period in Allentown. The Flyers were out shot 5 to 13 and spent a good part of the period hemmed into their own zone. They looked a bit scattered, like they couldn’t seem to get anything going. Interrupted by having to frequently kill penalties, they struggled to get much momentum going. It was concerning to see, especially considering the drop off in production seen in the third periods of the past two games, wondering if they would be able to string anything together at all. Despite some impressive individual performances, it was a lackluster start.

They were able to get back on track in the second period, outshooting the Islanders six to four, but this was not the type of slow start that you like to see, taking so long to get rolling against a team that they’re facing for the third time in a week.

2. Shayne Gostisbehere is an absolute treasure

Alright. If you'll take a break from fanning yourselves for a moment, let's talk about Ghost. He's, like, so good right? Woah baby.

I noted in my observations from Sunday's game that Gostisbehere, however quietly, had a really solid game. Last night he looked just as solid, but did so anything but quietly. Racking up a primary assist and a goal, he was an offensive force to be reckoned with. Even when he was not setting up goals, he was trying to, firing shots in on net from the point to try and get something going. And still with all this, he quietly remained responsible in the defensive zone. He even seemed to click well with defensive partner Robert Hagg. In short, Gostisbehere looked to be in excellent form, like he could do no wrong.

And speaking of dazzling nights...

3. Taylor Leier is still in the race

Recency bias and the influx of younger and perhaps more exciting talent has been a real hinderance to Leier’s hopes of claiming a full time roster spot with the Flyers. While most eyes have been turned elsewhere, Leier has been quiet, performing well enough but still middling.

He snapped attention back his own way last night. Scoring both regulation goals for the evening, Leier showed striking vision and instincts. He earned time on both the power play and the penalty kill units, and held his own on both. He flashed impressive speed and slipperiness, and nearly always managed to be in the right place at the right time.

Will he still have to push even harder if he hopes to steal away a roster spot? Absolutely. Is is a bit of a long shot at this point? I’m inclined to think so. But, if nothing else, Leier underscored tonight exactly why he has not, and should not, be counted out entirely.

4. I guess we have to talk about the penalty kill, right?

Because we saw so much of it? The Flyers had to kill four penalties in the first period alone, which is not a spot we or they want to see themselves in. We could talk ad nauseum about how the Flyers need to take fewer penalties, or if preseason officiating is leading to an increase in penalties called, and how we feel about that. But that’s a talk for another day.

On the whole, the penalty kill looked just fine. They went three for four during the aforementioned first period, only allowing a goal during the 5 on 3 (which, I know I at least find difficult to get too terribly upset about, all things considered). They were not always able to keep the puck cleared out of their defensive zone, but they were able to keep the Isles tied up, their power play units largely ineffective. So, the penalty kill wasn’t perfect, but it was competent enough, and that’s what matters.

5. Lehtera Watch 2k17

In the observations on Sunday’s game, I also posed the question of which version of Jori Lehtera is the one that’s going to stick with the Flyers. His first preseason performance seemed, on paper, a little volatile, with some distinctly high highs, and some especially low lows. Last night, however, his performance seemed to even out. He was not particularly flashy, didn’t make any big moves. But, he also avoided making any guttural groan worthy misses or mistakes. Lehtera was not entirely unnoticeable, but he certainly kept his head down.

But, even as he’s seeming to equalize, it’s still too early to make a full judgement on his offerings to the team. And so Lehtera Watch 2k17 continues.

6. Rose Colored Boy

Belated birthday boy Nolan Patrick finally had a night closer to what we’ve all been waiting for and expecting from him. He’s been quiet up to this point, certainly still playing like a competent NHLer, but one without any excessive glitz. Last night, though, he certainly showed a bit more flash. He flexed his strength, displayed his excellent hockey sense, and his passing looked unbelievably sharp. Beyond that, I was

impressed with the fact that he didn’t shy away from playing a very physical game, despite his just coming off of surgery. There was no timidity there. He also picked up his first primary assist on the Gostisbehere overtime winning goal— and what a beauty it was— which isn’t too shabby, either.

My only qualm? I would have liked to have seen a bit more speed out of him, as I know he’s capable of bringing, especially later in the game. I suspect this may be an issue of conditioning, relatively easily remedied, and look forward to seeing what he looks like when it is.

7. Zone entries

I talked earlier about the Flyers’ first period struggles, how they had trouble getting much of a serious rhythm going, in trying to get offensive momentum rolling. Some of this, I expect, had to do with their failure to consistently generate controlled zone entries.

Full disclosure: we’re eye testing here, folks.

Much of last night’s game saw the Flyers falling back on dump and go zone entries, at the expense of the greater continuity that controlled entries would have offered them. In moments when they were struggling to put together momentum, the motion became even more disjointed, when the puck was given up, had to be chased, sometimes still recovered by an Islander. Sitting still in the preseason, one tries not to get too worked up about zone entry preferences, but also hopes that this is something that gets cleaned up in the regular season, when having or not having momentum will have tangible influences on games that really matter.

8. Michal Neuvirth holds steady

Quiet efficacy certainly seems to be the theme of many individual performances from last night’s game, and much the same holds true for Neuvirth. Through the two periods he played, he went 16 for 17 on shots faced and looked nearly unshakeable in the process. There was a virtually palpable confidence in him, as he controlled and shrugged off shots like he’s never played a poor game in his life.

This is also about when we get hit with the trap. We say: he looked so good last night! So solid! Maybe he’s turned things around! Maybe he’s actually good now! Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves, I say. There’s still ample time for disappointment.

9. Third period comeback

Coming into this game, I was wondering a lot about the Flyers and late game drop offs. Through the rookie game and Sunday's preseason opener, we saw the Flyers dominating early in the game, only to fizzle out towards the end, giving up leads in the third period. Of course, two games are hardly an indication of a trend, but you can't ignore the worst case scenario voice screaming in the background— is this who they are now?

If last night's game was any indication, the answer to that is a resounding no. The Flyers dominated possession in the third period, and while they still allowed a game-tying goal, they looked much sharper than they had at that juncture in any preceding games. It was reassuring to see a bit of self-awareness— to have recognized their troubles in closing and moved towards keeping their energy up and remedying it.

10. The only damn thing I know

This game was an emotional rollercoaster. I know it. You know it. But no one knows it as much as my new favorite person-child.

The scene: Wednesday night. The PPL Center. Allentown, PA. The Flyers maintain a one goal lead in the final minutes of the third period, but the Islanders are holding tight to possession in the Flyers' defensive zone. A referee misses a penalty against Gostisbehere. Play continues. The Islanders score. A boy, aged about ten, lets out a scream, rips off his Flyers shirt to reveal a Phantoms shirt, and slumps back into his seat.

The only damn thing I know? Let's face it, we are all this kid.

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