Well, at least that’s over. The Flyers closed out their three game series against the Islanders last night, and it sure was a mixed bag if we’ve ever seen one. The Flyers brought us a sort of fun, sort of nerve racking win to start, a positively brutal 6-1 thrashing of a loss, and then a generally well-played but pretty disappointing overtime loss last night. There’s a whole lot going on there, a lot to like, a lot to dislike, and now we’re expected to just move on and gear up for tonight’s game against the Islanders. What’s going on here? Where are we? Let’s talk about it.
All stats via Natural Stat Trick.
Three numbers of note
21 high danger chances at 5-on-5
Looking at the whole of the season, despite the result, the Flyers out-did the Islanders in the shot attempts department by a pretty comfortable margin, putting up an adjusted 54.53 CF% at 5-on-5. The trouble, though, is we know this didn’t translate well to massive offensive outbursts—the Flyers totaled just six goals at 5-on-5 across those three games—and a lot of that had to do with their struggles to generate high danger chances (as they put up just 21 across those three games).
And nowhere was this more perfectly illustrated than in last night’s game. The Flyers positively dominated possession in this one, putting up 57 shot attempts and 35 shots on goal at 5-on-5, but only totaling five high danger chances. There’s something to be said for the Flyers beating themselves by overpassing on rush chances and stopping a dangerous chance from developing all on their own, but overall they were allowed to be pushed pretty exclusively to the perimeter, and they really struggled to get the puck cycling down low in the offensive zone. Credit to the Islanders for the defensive work that they put in to clog up the slot, but it also certainly felt like there was more the Flyers could have done to make their jobs more difficult.
7 scoring chances on the power play
Overall, it wasn’t a very strong trio of games for the Flyers’ power play. They had a reasonable amount of time to work with between these three games, as all told, they spent 18:37 on the power play, and the Flyers came out with a big fat nothing to show for it. They generated a fair amount of shot attempts, with 21, but they struggled to turn many of those into anything very dangerous, as they also came out of this one with just 10 shots, seven scoring chances, and three high danger chances on the power play. Which, to be plain, isn’t going to cut it.
Not having Shayne Gostisbehere, who before this series had really looked like he was settling back into his role on the power play and looking dangerous, for the first two games certainly hurt, but overall the Flyers, as they did at 5-on-5, really struggled to make anything of their chances, and were pushed overwhelmingly to the perimeter. As this demonstrated to us, it is not a recipe for success, and the Flyers, as goals remain at a premium right now, are going to need to figure it out on the power play sooner rather than later.
3 goals for Oskar Lindblom
But a big positive that we can pull from this series, of course, is Oskar Lindblom’s play. He picked up two goals in their first game, including the game winner, and then another last night, and overall just really provided some nice jump to the team. He put up strong underlying numbers as well, both in the shot quantity and quality departments, with an adjusted 69.23 CF% and 68.56 xGF%, as it all just seemed to click for him again.
And, it goes without saying, the prospect of getting Lindblom going again would certainly mean for a huge boost for the Flyers. Secondary scoring has been an issue for them for good chunks of the season, and to have Lindblom find that consistency again, to get back to that old form in that department, that certainly helps to shore up at least one issue for this team.
Two loose observations
1. Consistency is still an issue
If there’s one thing that this series illuminated pretty clearly for us, it’s that despite the fact that the Flyers did bring some good to this series, there’s a lot left to be desired in the consistency department. We saw it in the larger arc of this series—the Flyers put together a decent game to start the series, with the 5-4 win, then came back in the second and couldn’t do much of anything in that game—but also on an in-game level as well. That first game should not have been as close as it was, and last night’s saw things get perhaps a bit more interesting than they should have as well, as while the Flyers dominated for long stretches, they also were guilty of letting off the gas a bit, and that’s when the Islanders really started pressuring and putting them in a bit of trouble.
The Flyers are in a pretty frustrating situation right now where it feels like every mistake or breakdown is turning into the worst possible version of itself and them going in the back of the net, and what that means is that shift to shift consistency is more important than ever. Keeping the energy up at 100 percent isn’t really a reasonable expectation for any game, much less in a season like this one, but it remains true that the Flyers can’t fall into the trap of letting their energy and intensity fall so far off that they dig themselves into a hole, because that’s when bad things happen, and everything bad is happening to them this season. We’re not asking for perfection, but the Flyers bringing a bit more consistency then they’ve delivered so far does seem a reasonable ask.
2. An optimized lineup at long last?
One of the perhaps more relieving developments to come out of last night’s game was the fact that the Flyers finally provided as close to an optimized lineup as we’ve seen recently. We’ve seen quite a bit of flux in the roster, between injury related absences and Alain Vigneault scratching players in order to send some kind of message. And the latter, in short, was something that has seemed at times to do more harm than good. Because there is a time for teaching lessons, and doing so is one thing, but when wins are at a premium and the move is to put less skilled players into the lineup and asking them to play over their heads at this level in favor of Sending A Message, well, perhaps it’s a time for a change in priorities. A message sent to one player only goes so far when it also means hurting the team as a whole to send it. Though he didn’t have a perfect game, it was good to get Shayne Gostisbehere back in the lineup, and with the forward group healthy, it felt equally important to resist the urge to put in someone like Andy Andreoff or Carsen Twarynski—who have offered little this season in the way of offense generated—in the name of physicality. Putting the most skilled lineup on the ice didn’t provide a faultless game, but it brought one of the better performances we’ve seen recently, and certainly that should certainly count for something.
The big picture
To bring our big points back around and try to tie this one up neatly with a bow, we can arrive at our final takeaway—this is a team still with some faults, and consistency remains a concern, but they did show us how dangerous the can look when they get going, and to take a step back towards that was massive. There’s still quite a bit of work to be done, but the Flyers have made, at the very least, have made a gesture towards getting themselves back on track.
And what do we do with all of this? There’s certainly the hope that the Flyers will take some lessons from this series, and will carry with them the good pieces from this game into the next, and who knows, with a bit more luck and a bit more finish, they can really get rolling and start stringing together some wins. But history has us reticent to go all the way in on that thought, because we’ve seen this team looking like they were turning a corner, only to turn around and fall unbelievably flat in their next outing and undo all of the good work they had begun to put together.
What this does, if nothing else, is gives tonight’s game even more weight. We understand the difficulty they’re facing, playing a rested Devils team while they’re on the second half of a back to back, but it is of pretty critical importance that the Flyers carry at least some of this momentum with them into this game, or else we're back to square one all over again.