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Islanders 4, Flyers 2: It all descends into chaos

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Some observations for your morning...

NHL: New York Islanders at Philadelphia Flyers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Flyers have certainly had a rough go in these Saturday afternoon games at home, huh? They’ve been kind of brutal, and yesterday wasn’t really any kind of exception. The Flyers took it to the Islanders in their last two meetings, and because the universe’s quest for balance is relentless, I guess this means the Flyers were due for a poor showing against them. Regression and all that. Anyway, they’ve got another game coming up in not very long, so let’s get right to the notes.

All stats via Money Puck, Natural Stat Trick, and NHL.com

How’d they look out there?

5-on-5: 20 shots, 37.97 adjusted CF%, 33.15 xGF%

Another day, another less than stellar showing for the Flyers at 5-on-5. In a way, this feels a lot like their performance against Montreal, in that they really struggled to get much of anything going. We’ve got a bit of tape to more or less capture the tone of the game for the Flyers.

The Islanders don’t have a whole lot in the offensive firepower department, and the way they’ve gotten to the top of the division is by playing a sort of smothering defensive style. They don’t give you much space to work with, and do well to really shut down the area around the net. It’s not an impossible system to break through—good teams have been able to do it increasingly through the back half of the season—but the Flyers just couldn’t seem to do that. They were defaulting to whatever the easiest, first instinct play was, whatever seemed to be the easiest, rather than what was perhaps more likely to work. And they let their attempts be broken up in the process.

Power play: 3 shots, 5 CF, 0 HDCF

The penalty calling in this one was a little weird and gave us some weird special teams intervals, but this leaned a bit heavier on the Islanders’ side. The Flyers had two power play attempts and it all went in pretty standard fashion. They didn’t shoot themselves in the foot and they got their time. And their first attempt couldn’t have been drawn up any better.

That’s a bang-bang play right off the faceoff, culminating in Shayne Gostisbehere Doing His Thing. Their second attempt get them the same results, but they were still able to get some looks, but as was the case at 5-on-5, they weren’t really able to fully collapse the Islanders, and struggled to get much going in the way of high danger chances (registering exactly zero). So the one goal was all they could manage.

Penalty kill: 2 SA, 5 CA, 0 SF

Remember on Tuesday, when the officials were kind of letting just about everything go, letting the guys play, and didn’t the Flyers got away without taking a single penalty? Well, that good fortune didn’t hold in yesterday’s game.

The good news is that the Flyers’ penalty kill had themselves a strong afternoon, and they needed to—the Flyers took a total of 10 penalty minutes, including a high sticking double minor, and an interference and unsportsmanlike conduct call on that same play, earning the Islanders two minutes of 5-on-3. They got a bit of help, with the Islanders getting caught with too many men on the ice and negating just under the last two minutes of their four minute power play, but on the whole, the Flyers performed well. They were active in getting after loose pucks and effective in breaking up entry attempts, able to keep the Islanders from being able to get set up and cycling in the first place. And it’s probably the reason the score didn’t end up more lopsided than it was.

Three standouts of the night

1. Carter Hart

We’re keeping with our trend of echoing sentiments from Tuesday’s game, which means it’s time to talk about Carter Hart and how he’s just doing his best out there. We’ve talked some already (and will continue to talk) about how the Flyers weren’t able to generate much offense, and spent long stretches hemmed into their own end, struggling to so much as clear the puck out of the zone. And this was bad news for Hart. He faced 40 shots on the afternoon, including 12 high danger chances, and again had his work cut out for him. Does giving up four goals in one game sound very good? Not really, but wrapped up in that is the fact that his team was leaving him out to dry, blowing coverages and handing chances over to the Islanders. Hart wasn’t perfect, there were a couple of dangerous looking rebounds given up, but he was able to recover from them well. He had a fine enough game, and was a key piece in this game not getting more out of hand.

2. Shayne Gostisbehere

Is it in poor taste to point out that the Flyers only scored one goal completely on their own (more on that later)? It’s true, and Shayne Gostisbehere was the one to make that goal happen. With that bit of quick passing right off the faceoff on the power play, Gostisbehere was in position for that Gostisbehere one-timer, and that, friends, is a bit of tangible offense for the Flyers in a game where that was hard to come by.

On the whole, Gostisbehere had a pretty solid game—as with the rest of the team, he wasn’t immune to the defensive breakdowns the Islanders were forcing, but his offensive game stood out, relative to his teammates. He was second among his teammates with three individual shots, and fourth with five shot attempts, not world burning stats, but they’re something.

3. Robert Hagg

You might have noticed that we changed the name of this section from “three stars” to “three standouts,” (and if not, just nod and pretend you did), and that’s to give us a bit more space for discussion, and an opening to talk about the curious case of Robert Hagg’s game.

The good: technically, he scored a hockey goal.

The less good: He got credit for the goal, but it was more like he put a pretty innocuous seeming shot on goal that bounced around a bit, and which Casey Cizikas deflected into his own net. Also, Hagg’s defensive play yesterday left some to be desired. The team as a whole didn’t really have an answer for the Islanders, defensively, but the pairing of Hagg with Radko Gudas in particular just isn’t really working. Islanders were getting the inside on them in close and that was leading to high danger chances against, as well as goals. It was, in short, pretty rough.

Two loose observations

1. Nitpick time

We’re about to harp on something of a smaller detail of the Flyers’ play from yesterday, and normally we don’t like to get too terribly nitpicky, but this one small detail hurt the Flyers pretty badly in this one. Part of it was almost certainly a product of the defense the Islanders were playing, but the Flyers had this insistence on trying to play the puck off the boards and out of the defensive zone. That was how they were going to create their exits. And it just wasn’t working. Maybe it got them a few seconds of breathing time, but that was just about it. The Islanders were right after that loose puck, and they were bringing it back into the Flyers’ end, and we were right back where we started. It wasn’t working early on, and it continued to not work across the whole of the game, when they insisted they should stick to this play. And it burned them, keeping them from being able to too much offensive momentum of their own.

2. Setting the terms

And all of this sort of builds up to the idea that the Flyers never really had control of this game. They never had the lead. The Islanders pretty much always had the edge in shots and shot attempts. The Flyers never really felt like they were picking up any momentum, even after they scored the power play goal to tie things up. The Islanders were just skating around, doing their thing, playing the game exactly the way they wanted to play it, for the most part, unchallenged. The Flyers were trying to play within it, and by that time, it was too late. They weren’t going to be able to generate much, in that setting.

It’s a tough style to play against, but it isn’t insurmountable—I found myself thinking a lot about when the Calgary Flames played the Islanders a few weeks back and were able to just run right through them, burning them with their speed and keeping them tied up in their own end for most of the first period. And maybe that’s the mark of a very good team, that they can break through a smothering system like the one New York plays. Maybe that’s a mark that the Flyers still have a bit of work to do.

The only damn thing I know

Watching Casey Cizikas deflect that puck into his own net, I had a thought: has there ever been an own-goal hat trick? I don’t know if that’s something that anyone tracks, and I know the chance of putting a puck in your own net seems relatively low, so the chance of doing it three times in a game must be super low, but also… it has to have happened somewhere, right? It would be incredible. And if anyone has any leads on one happening somewhere out there, kindly pass them along.