Heading into the 2018-19 season, the Islanders had one of the bleakest outlooks. They had just lost John Tavares to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and new general manager Lou Lamoriello went certifiably insane with his offseason signings. This is a team that brought in the likes of Valtteri Filppula, yes, that Valtteri Filppula who played here last season. He also signed Leo Komarov to a FOUR year contract worth 12 million dollars. This team has a third line consisting of Tom Kuhnhackl, Filppula, and Komarov, and they are first place in the Metro, what is life?
* checks notes *
Ah, so that’s how they’re in first place. Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss are quite literally saving their asses. The Islanders have received incredible goaltending this season, something they received the opposite of last season. The league average save percentage this season across the 31 NHL teams is a .904. With the unreal work of Greiss and Lehner, the Islanders team save percentage is a staggering .925. They aren’t just above average, they’re far and above the average. Their team Corsi is third-worst in the league, they give up a lot of scoring chances, they are 23rd in the league in goals scored, and yet this is the top team right now in the Metro division. Hey, that’s hockey.
Alright now that we’ve just made ourselves even more upset than we already were before that the Islanders are in first place, let’s talk about the Flyers. After beating up on the AHL roster riddled New Jersey Devils on Friday, the orange and black will look for their fourth win in the last five games. They’ll also be attempting to keep their five game point streak alive, as the loss to Columbus of course occurred in overtime. With the margin between them and the second wild card remaining at seven points, keeping the point streak alive is almost a necessity.
1. Don’t let the top six burn you
The Islanders really don’t have a whole lot on this team outside of their goaltending, and the top six. Mat Barzal, the reigning Calder Trophy winner is having another solid season with 52 points in 64 games, and the trio of Brock Nelson, Josh Bailey, and captain Anders Lee all over the 40 point mark. This is an extremely top heavy team that relies on great goaltending and an average defense to win them games, and so far it’s worked.
If the Flyers can slow down the top six and keep them out of the high danger areas, at that point you just have to hope you catch one of Lehner/Greiss on an off-day. Their defense will be exploitable although tough to beat with the great defensive mind of head coach Barry Trotz. The defending Stanley Cup-winning head coach has also been a main cog behind the Islanders success, and is proving to be the best hire of the offseason.
2. Get ready for some hits, baby
To absolutely no one’s surprise, the Islanders like to take the body. With the likes of Matt Martin, Johnny Boychuk, Cal Clutterbuck, and of course Leo Komarov, there will be no shortage of physical hockey. The Flyers handled this well vs. New Jersey who were, let’s be honest here, gooning it up on Friday night. That was a team well out of contention attempting to beat up as many Flyers players as possible, instead of focusing on winning the hockey game.
The good news is, that shouldn’t be the case tonight vs. the Islanders given they’re the top team in the division. Sure, they’ll be lowering the boom this afternoon no doubt, but their main focus will be on securing the two points. Regardless, the Flyers have to be ready for a dog fight yet again, and match the Islanders intensity. The newly dubbed “Bash Brothers” of Nolan Patrick and Travis Konecny might need to bring that same fire to this game.
3. Keep them to the perimeter
The Islanders are a strange team offensively. They appear to generate the bulk of their chances from two distinct spots on the ice, and that is directly in front of the net, or the right side point. This should be obvious for the Flyers what to do on defense, to keep them to that right point area. If they do, one would assume they’d be able to have a much better chance of taking the two points today. The Isles seem to be one of those teams that don’t generate a whole lot of chances, but they capitalize on the high percentage plays they do get.
If the Flyers blueliners can step up and keep their shot attempts to that right point, and not fall into the same trap themselves, they very well could win this hockey game. That is, unless Lehner/Greiss stand on their head which is entirely possible.
Flyers Projected Lineup
Giroux — Patrick — Konecny
Lindblom — Couturier — Voracek
JVR — Laughton — Hartman
Raffl — Knight — Varone
Provorov — Sanheim
Gostisbehere — Myers
Hagg (pls be Morin) — Gudas
Data courtesy of Natural Stat Trick and hockey-reference