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Islanders 3, Flyers 0: We really are back, baby

Some observations for your morning...

Philadelphia Flyers v New York Islanders Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

And we’re back! It feels like we’ve said this a whole bunch by now, but it’s true! The Flyers are back and playing games and we are back and writing words about those games. The only way this could be better? If the Flyers had actually come out with a really stellar effort. But, alas, this wasn’t quite the case. They had some factors working against them, and they weren’t without their bright spots, but we still have a fair bit of lamenting to do here.

It’s good to be back.

1.Welcome back, Anthony Stolarz

We talked about it in the preview, but yesterday saw Anthony Stolarz’s return to the ice! After missing most of last season with a knee injury! And guess what, you guys. He looked pretty good!

Stolarz got the start in yesterday afternoon’s game and immediately had his work cut out for him, with an onslaught of pressure from the Islanders and nice chances for Mat Barzal, Anthony Beauvillier, and Noah Dobson, but he handled them all with relative ease. All told, he played the first period and the first half of the period and gave up two goals (both on the penalty kill, which was not great, but more on that later), but looked solid. His positioning was solid and he looked comfortable and mobile when leaving the crease to play the puck. He still remains something of an open question—it would be tough to imagine him earning the backup spot with the Flyers out of camp, and as one of three goalies expected to start the season with the Phantoms, it’s hard to say how much time he’ll even get playing with them, either. It’s too early to say if he’s made a return to his pre-injury form, sure, but if nothing else his first reintroduction was a good one.

2.Hemming and hawing

The Flyers are back, as we’ve said, and we’re reentering familiar territory here, folks. Not just in that we’ve seen this section title before, but that the Flyers yesterday fell back into That Thing They Do, with the failed clears and the getting stuck in their own zone and giving up chances for the opposition. We just talked about the initial onslaught of activity that Stolarz had to face, and it’s just as much a testament to the Barzal line for getting some early momentum going as it is a knock on the Flyers for failing to settle things down and get a good clear. We’ve seen it time and again from the big club, and we almost want to laugh at the continuity of the fact that the prospects are doing it too, were it not for our frustration. We’re trying not to get too upset, here—after all this was just the first preseason game, a chance for these guys to more or less get their feet wet—but the fact remains that the requisite speed and jump needed to break up these attempts were lacking, and that doesn’t leave us feeling too rosy.

3.Killing penalties

Oh, would you look at that, the return of another one of our favorite sections. We’re talking about the penalty kill. Because, you know, the Flyers just can’t resist taking penalties and just making a real mess of things. But we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves.

We were, weirdly, a little excited to see the penalty kill, heading into yesterday’s game, just to have a look at the forward duos that the Flyers decided to roll, and the potential that they offered. Their first go saw Oskar Lindblom and Cole Bardreau serving as the first unit forwards, which didn’t turn into a great look, as Bardreau, the floater up in the zone, gave up space for Kieffer Bellows, who zipped it home before Phil Myers could get to him for the block.

Their second look was a better one to start, with Mihkail Vorobyev and Taylor Leier getting the nod as the starters, and kept play quiet and then the puck cleared long enough to get a change and bring out the second unit with Lindblom and Travis Konecny, which showed some promise! Serving as the forward high in the zone chasing the puck, he intercepted it, and was able to send it out into the neutral zone. It was the start of a good look, that is, until they gave up a goal with two seconds left on the penalty kill after a failed clear. Just to remind us of who we were watching.

The third and final penalty kill attempt was a successful one, seeing the units look more settled and able to actually block lanes and clear the puck, but the damage, really, had already been done. It was a big narrative on the broadcast, that of a penalty kill that finished last season third from last, and needs to improve. And it wasn’t a look that gave us a lot of hope for a massive improvement.

4.*sigh* the power play

But why don’t we take this as a chance to flip to the other side of the special teams page, if you will. We may not want to, because the picture doesn’t really get a whole lot nicer, but we do have to talk about it, all the same. Let’s talk about the power play.

In short, it was not great. With four attempts to make something happen, even against two different goalies, they came up empty. The Islanders did well to close down the slot, and leave the Flyers cycling on the outside and doing a lot of passing along the blue line and taking shots from the point—not giving way to particularly dangerous chances. Carsen Twarynski had a pretty nice look, though, and we should give him a nod for that.

We saw a couple of instances of them working to collapse the slot and try for a higher danger shot, but they couldn’t get it all the way there. It was a little messy, and it’s something we’ll need to see them clean up (and fast).

5.Each line gave us glimmers…

…but none emerged with dominance. On paper, when we saw the lines for the first time, we had some things to get excited about, they showed some promise. And we got some flashes! The Patrick line showed some buzz, got their cycle game going and looked like they might be able to generate something, and so too with the Vorobyev line. And the Rubtsov line took over and gave us a few sequences of solid play in the neutral zone. And then… that was kind of it.

And, in a way, we understand why this was the case, at least in terms of tangible results and points on the board. The Islanders were checking tightly and making it tough for the Flyers to maintain possession (more on that later), but they were just as guilty of not putting themselves in the best position to close on the few chances they did generate. Just look at all of the overlap around the right point. Look how bare it is in the crease. The Flyers just couldn’t seen to break low into the zone to get anything going, and they weren’t quite in position to try for many tip-ins. So the chances fell short.

6.Myers Watch 2k18

And we’ve made our way back to it! We said we should and would be looking at Phil Myers to see what kind of game he puts up, as he stares down that opening on the roster for the big club, and he didn’t disappoint in the preseason opener. Let’s go to the tape.

We talked a few points back about the power play, how it wasn’t very good, and how probably their best chance of the night came from Twarynski on the first attempt. And who set up that up? That’s right, our pal Phil!

So he worked well as a distributor on the power play, and gave us a taste of those offensive instincts, but the defensive side of this game was just as sound. I mean, just take a look at this play where he disrupts a would-be play by Barzal. That’s right. Mat Barzal. Who is very fast and elusive. Kept with and all but negated.

Now, he wasn’t perfect, as we said, he got beat trying to block the shot that would become the Bellows goal, but on the whole he had a solid game. And, getting the nod to play again tonight at home, he’ll have the chance to improve, still, in front of the home crowd.

7.Control an entry, ya jerks

We’re back to this, too, in which I make weird section headers and consider changing them to something official, but leave it for the affect. The affect here works. We’re talking about the messiness of this game, now.

One of the big takeaways from this game was the feeling that the Flyers just couldn’t really sustain a whole lot of pressure, that, outside of a few nice pushes, they were chasing the action and trying to get themselves settled, to less than stellar results. And the reason for part of this was their fallback into chip and chase—they couldn’t seem to find a way to consistently carry the puck into the zone, and instead opted to dump it in. Which might have been fine, if they were winning the races to those pucks, but they weren’t. So possession was shifted again, without a chance made.

The other big piece of this was the stretch pass attempts that just weren’t very clean or well timed, were pretty easily picked off in the neutral zone and then sent the other way. Are we getting the idea here? The Flyers struggled mightily to maintain possession of the puck, and while part of this was due to the Isles laying out a generous number of hits to separate them from it, they aren’t exempt from having shot themselves in the foot, so to speak, in making the easy play and failing to execute fully.

8. /WALK THE MOON voice/ [Misha], baby

In sort of a bleh game like this, it can be hard to pull out individual performances to say “despite the team’s performance as a whole, so and so actually had a very good individual game,” but, that said, we do have a couple of those. We talked already about how Myers showed a bit of flash, but the other of our standout performances? Mikhail Vorobyev.

Leading all forwards in time on ice, we got an extended look at Vorobyev in all situations, and it was a good one. His line with Danick Martel and Nic Aube-Kubel gave us a couple of nice chances—just take a look at those shots in that chart a few points back not coming from the point—but still lacked the finish. He remained sharp and disruptive on the penalty kill, and, for a player we’ve come to associate with defense first, he didn’t look out of place when dropped on the first power play unit. In short, despite the fact that he couldn’t contribute or set up any goals, the effort level was there.

And, all in all, this is good news. Not just for the fact that he was a bright spot in an otherwise pretty dull game, but for the fact that we know he’s one who’s pushing for a spot on the opening night roster. To do so, he needs to put up a pretty stellar camp, and, after already looking good in the first two days of practice, he’s off to a solid start.

9.Loose ends

This game was messy, and we’re left feeling a little scattered by it. So, we’re going to use this last point as a chance to gather up our remaining small thoughts and drop them all here. Let’s get started.

One of the more interesting usages in this game was Aube-Kubel getting some time on the second power play unit. And, it’s only a little bit of time, in just one preseason game, but it’s interesting, as he wasn’t used on the Phantoms’ power play really at all last season. And maybe this doesn’t sway Scott Gordon’s usage decisions, but maybe it should. It was a short look, but Aube-Kubel didn’t look out of place there. So maybe we’re looking at a brand new opportunity, here. And that would be neat.

Also, we talked a lot about Stolarz all the way back at the start of the article, because it was the first time that a lot of us have seen him in a long time, but we shouldn’t ignore Alex Lyon, who played the back half of yesterday’s game. In his time on the ice, he gave up one goal early—but we can’t begrudge him too much, as he found himself blocked by a double screen—but remained very solid through the rest of the game, keeping the team in it as they tried to stage some kind of comeback. That didn’t happen, but we should at least still give Lyon a nod for looking good in the second half of the game.

And, finally, we should air some grievances. This game was rough, you guys. We can talk about the lean in the Islanders’ favor, as they iced more of their veterans and assumed regulars against a group overwhelmingly made up of kids, but the fact remains that those kids didn’t bring us a particularly inspired effort on their end. Things started to look like they were almost clicking in the third period, but on the whole, their play lacked a lot of energy and pace. The good news, perhaps, is that we’ll be seeing a lot of these guys again tonight at home, and they’ll have a chance to redeem themselves. Because, man, could they use it.

10.The only damn thing I know

It’s here! It’s just about the one year anniversary (preseason game one to preseason game one) of the “the only damn thing I know” exclamation and the inception of this running section. And I was going to use this to talk about how it’s just so nice to have hockey back, and all that jazz. But I’m gonna use it for a joke,

What was the real treat was watching the kids. You know the ones. Our favorites. Phil Myer. Nic Aboo-Koobel. And all of that is just… incredible.