Update: Scott Laughton and Shayne Gostisbehere are out, James van Riemsdyk and Robert Hagg come in
Though they put the pressure on offensively in the second period and for parts of the third period, the Flyers couldn’t manage to score a goal in the first game of this series, and poor performances from key players led to their downfall. There’s no doubt that Alain Vigneault will have made adjustments to the Flyers’ game plan, as he did all regular season and in the first round, and one can only hope that these changes lead to a more positive outcome.
Three players to watch
1. Sean Couturier
The Selke Trophy finalist had a game to forget on Monday, not looking his best and showing rare lapses in judgement. He was out of position a couple of times in key moments and wasn’t handling the puck very well. Shockingly, Couturier had the worst Corsi-For percentage of any Flyer skater at 5-on-5 (37.50%), which is frankly, hard to believe. But it’s true.
Otherwise, Couturier has looked anywhere from “okay” to “great” in the bubble, and here’s hoping that we see #14 in peak form. For the Flyers to have success in this series, they’ll need the man we call “Dr. Coots” to make a couple house calls.
2. Travis Konecny
Despite having a breakout season, Konecny hasn’t looked at all like himself so far in the bubble. He’s missing the net on nearly every chance he’s presented with, and while his chippy aggressive forechecking and work on the cycle is still there, we expect Konecny to put up points, which he hasn’t done. Including the round robin, Konecny only has three points in ten games, and none of those points are goals.
He looked better in Monday’s game, as he combined with Kevin Hayes on occasions to threaten the Islanders. However, no goals resulted from this, and Konecny’s lack of scoring continues to be worrisome and frustrating. In the end, the veterans on this team need to start producing if the Flyers are to stand a chance in this series, and Konency is one of them that needs to kick it into high gear.
3. Matt Niskanen
After coming back from his one game suspension, Niskanen had an average game from a statistical perspective. He maintained a 55.17 CF% at 5-on-5, and otherwise didn’t cost the Flyers a lot of chances when he was on the ice (though his ixG was third worst on the team at 5-on-5, I’m not going to blame him since the entire offense stalled, and Niskanen isn’t paid to score goals). However, I didn’t love what I saw from the eye test. I thought that Niskanen looked a little bit slow out of the gate (though in fairness most of the team did) and I wasn’t impressed by his lack of polish offensively at the blue line in regards to keeping cycles going and keeping the puck flowing.
Other defensemen (mainly Phil Myers if I’m being honest) did better at this and pinched well along the wall to keep plays going, and I’d like to see more of this from Niskanen, considering his reputation as a two-way defenseman.
Two (well, three) big questions:
1. Can we score a goal?
And then win the game? I hope for our sanity the answer is yes.
2. Just what changes will Alain Vigneault make?
It was clear that while the Flyers were at least able to generate offensive pressure eventually in Game 1, that what they were doing wasn’t working. They didn’t have many chances which felt terribly dangerous, and they only started getting those chances half-way through the game. The Flyers need to generate more high-percentage opportunities, and obviously, start doing so at the start of the game. Even if they aren’t red hot out of the gate, they need to be showing up to games when they actually start.
It then becomes a question of what Alain Vigneault will do to remedy the issues, if he indeed does make changes. He has a history of making adjustments, so I’m sure he will, but what in particular is yet to be seen other than personnel moves.
3. Can the Flyers break the Islanders’ shell?
When the Islanders get the lead, as we saw in Game 1, they retreat into this defensive shell and pretty much only counter attack, “parking the bus” in front of their goal. We can see that from the “tale of two halves” Corsi battle over the course of the game at 5-on-5.
Right when the Flyers start to mount on the pressure at a 1-0 deficit, the Islanders sit back and counter when the Flyers commit too heavily, and there you see the three blue dots in the middle of Flyer dominance.
They’ll need to break this mould that the Islanders love to use in order to have success in this series.
Here are the Flyers projected lines, and it looks like Claude Giroux will be reunited on the top line, with Derek Grant centering the third line, moving Scott Laughton to wing:
Giroux - Couturier - Voracek
Farabee - Hayes - Konecny
van Riemsdyk - Grant - Aube-Kubel
Raffl - Thompson - Pitlick
Provorov - Niskanen
Sanheim - Myers
Hagg - Braun