Well, that sucked.
1. The Islanders are, and also aren’t, who we thought they were
It became apparent quite early in this game that the Islanders had studied Montreal’s game plan heavily, because they were aggressive as soon as the puck dropped. They used this for much of the first period taking advantage of a Flyers team clearly caught off guard. Then after they got the lead and the second period began, we saw what the Islanders were during the regular season. They allowed the Flyers to enter the zone, then clogged up the neutral zone and played defense the rest of the way.
So while the Flyers were getting their fair share of chances, and a few were high quality, the Islanders were getting great goaltending and luck to go along with it. Generally, if the Flyers play the way they did in the second period more often than not, they’ll score some goals, but at some point that actually has to happen.
2. The big guns need to finish
Which brings me to this point about this team at the moment. There’s a lot of complaining that goes on about the bottom six, especially Nate Thompson, and to be fair some of it is justified. He hasn’t been good for most of the playoffs, and he’s probably being used a tad too much. However, are we really going to pretend like Nate f’ing Thompson is the issue when Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, and Travis Konecny all don’t have goals?
I love all three of those guys, but this is put up or shut up time, wake the hell up and prove you deserve your paychecks. We can talk about their metrics and how good they looked all we want, but these guys don’t get a pass for not showing up. I know all three have been fairly unlucky these playoffs but as the ol’ saying goes: you make your own luck. If this team gets bounced by the Islanders and all three of these guys continue to struggle, that’s the storyline, not the bottom six.
3. Not enough simplicity late in the game
As the third period began what I really wanted to see out of this team was a commitment to getting pucks on net and getting traffic in front of Semyon Varlamov. I know the Flyers were getting a good amount of open looks with some more creative plays, but there was also far too much over passing against a team that defends like the Isles do. While overall I thought his game was good, Joel Farabee was the culprit of this more than a few times. He’d have open looks to shoot for a rebound, or just shoot for a goal and hope a fluke happens, and he passed it to a covered Flyer.
Does this mean I think the Flyers should abandon the creative mindset for Game 2? Absolutely not, but when you’re trailing by one going into the third period against a goalie who is stopping everything, getting traffic isn’t a bad idea.
4. Gostisbehere with a solid return to the lineup
Overall, this game from Gostisbehere is exactly why he’s back in the lineup. He was moving the puck well through the neutral zone, executing clean breakouts, and even playing some solid defense. There were a few moments where he looked like he might fall apart on some bad turnovers, but he recovered seemingly each next shift. He’s a high risk high reward player, and you just hope that reward comes through with actual goals sooner rather than later.
He ended the night with a 64.29 Corsi-For percentage, and a 57.75 expected goals percentage. Although again, in the playoffs I think actual goals and production matters more, this was undeniably a good game for Ghost. If he can clean up the turnovers, and even find himself on the scoreboard and really get hot, it adds a whole new dynamic to this team.
5. The second goal was the back breaker
I saw a lot of people on Twitter ripping the hell out of Couturier for this goal and, to be fair, I have no idea what the hell he was doing there. But also to be fair to him, I’m sure he expected at least one of the two defensemen below the damn goal line to at least tie up a stick and prevent a pass to the slot area. Instead, that’s exactly what happened, and Jean-Gabriel Pageau beat Carter Hart.
While Phil Myers needed to be better here, I really just don’t understand what in the world Travis Sanheim is doing.
A textbook forecheck leads to the Jean-Gabriel Pageau goal for the Islanders. Everything clicking for Long Island’s hockey team in Game 1. pic.twitter.com/kGhFC4ayKj— The Puck Authority (@PuckAuthority1) August 25, 2020
The way he positions himself isn’t ideal because it’s giving Ross Johnston a fairly clean lane to the puck, and being the 6’5” 235lb player that he is, he’s going to be able to shield the puck well. So what Sanheim needed to do if he was going to position himself like this, is either poke the puck in front of him and hope it makes its way through a sea of bodies, or try and swing it around the other way. Instead of doing either of those things, he does nothing, and Johnston takes advantage of Couturier out of position to set up Pageau.
This isn’t the first time Sanheim has been far too passive in these situations in the bubble. He needs to be more assertive when going for pucks along the boards, and win a few puck battles. There needs to be a decision made one way or another here, doing nothing and board playing yourself like an AI player in NHL 20 isn’t going to work.