Preview: Marooned

To complete this week’s onslaught of the top teams in the division, the Flyers face Barry Trotz and company.

To begin a new week (or end this one, depending on how you view days), the Flyers will face off with another hated foe, this time from Long Island. The Orange Crush come into this game sitting third in the Eastern Division, with the Bruins nipping at their heels. The Flyers are down and out from any conceivable angle, but tonight provides the chance for this group to play spoilers. Who are the players to watch, what are the storylines, and how can Philly beat this team? All that and more below.

The Islanders

This team defies all logic. Despite a general lack of standout talent and skill, the Islanders are well on their way to a third consecutive playoff berth under noted miracle worker/actual wizard/head coach Barry Trotz, who continues to define his career by making something out of nothing (please come back to Nashville, Trotzy). The Islanders are playing peak-2000s Predators hockey; tight checking, superhumanly disciplined coverage, and a whole lot of borderline interference that’s barely beneath the notice of the officiants.

Leading the team is, of course, Mathew Barzal, who has more or less replicated his production from last year with 38 points in 44 games. Missing from the lineup will be Anders Lee, who is out for the year, but the Isles made some significant pickups at the trade deadline to compensate for the loss of their captain. Travis Zajac and Kyle Palmieri have both been quiet for New York in their first five games, each only posting a single point (both goals), but the two respectively bring veteran leadership and a goal-scoring touch despite their declining skills.

The Islanders enter this game after a tough loss to the Boston Bruins, echoing the status of the Capitals yesterday. Expect New York to come out with some fire in the opening minutes as Barzal, Eberle and Ryan Pulock try to put the pressure on Brian Elliott. In terms of weaknesses this team possesses, the inability to generate high-danger passes is a problem for anyone on the roster not named Barzal. Anders Lee was a perfect partner in crime for the speedy center, but with him absent and a lackluster replacement arriving in Palmieri, the Isles have fewer scoring options. If the Flyers can keep the top line in check, they’ll have a shot at taking two points.

The Flyers

Where to begin. The utter ass-whooping the Capitals put on the Orange & Black yesterday was appalling, to put it mildly. Even in a season that’s lost, to see the Flyers get dominated from top to bottom in that manner was demoralizing for me, a spectator; I can’t even imagine how the players feel. Luckily, even in a game where nobody on the team had a positive Corsi differential, there were some interesting notes to be had.

Firstly, let’s talk about Claude Giroux. The captain has been criticized plenty this season by angry fans who want change and feel that leadership needs an adjustment, but it’s really baseless hatred if you look at his play. Giroux has been the team’s most valuable player for the entire season, sitting at second in points on the roster while providing elite defense along the wing. He was also the only Flyer to post a positive xG ratio in the game against Washington yesterday, and the creator of Ivan Provorov’s goal in the first period.

Anybody who looks at this train wreck of a season and points to Giroux as the reason for this group’s failure simply doesn’t pay attention to what he’s doing on the ice. Blaming Giroux is nothing more than a tenuous narrative constructed by people who didn’t like him in the first place, and he’ll likely be a key player yet again tonight.

Now, in terms of other notable names, let’s look at Wade Allison. The Big Red Machine was in the middle of the pack when looking at Flyers analytically in yesterday’s outing, when he managed to pot his first career NHL goal.

Allison has a promising profile. His stint with the Phantoms was short, but he’s draw rave reviews from Maddie and Brad for his impact. In fact, Brad even compared his impact to Joel Farabee’s from last year, a lofty compliment for the young winger as he attempts to break into the NHL. The stats back it up, too; in terms of transition data, Allison was among the best in Lehigh Valley, posting a slash line of 62.50/75.00/87.50 in terms of carry, controlled entry, and possession entry percentages while slashing 66.67/88.89 on carry and controlled exit percentages. For a player who hasn’t been billed as a high-end skater, those numbers speak to the puck protection ability that the powerfully built winger exercises.

Allison likely won’t be a star, but with his excellent one-timer, nose for the front of the net, and pro-ready frame, he’s got the tools to succeed on a Flyers roster in dire need of some goal-scoring touch. The 2016 second round pick has had issues with injuries throughout his career, particularly with his knees, but if he can stay healthy there’s a chance he carves out a role as an NHL regular.

Lastly in Flyers-related news entering this game, Cam York was added to the taxi squad late last night. While the 2019 first rounder probably won’t debut tonight, the front office is clearly sky-high on his potential. Something about gingers panning out with the Flyers, I suppose. York has drawn divisive conversation within the BSH staff, but it’s agreed upon that he’ll be a crucial cog in the organization’s plans going forward. Keep an eye on him as the season comes to a close.

Three Big Things

  1. Keep it competitive. The Flyers have gotten the doors blown off of them in recent weeks, particularly when facing the Capitals. Historically, the Trotz Islanders and Vigneault Flyers have taken games down to the wire, with nine of their seventeen meetings in that span going beyond regulation. The Flyers have schooled the Isles when taking games to overtime, so if Philly is able to survive there’s a good chance they take both points.
  2. Which Brian Elliott shows up? In his last start against the Capitals, Elliott looked slow, old, and downright awful for the entire outing. Against another quality team, will he again look creaky and sink the Flyers, or will the recent break he’s been given have rejuvenated his game? It’s a wait-and-see storyline to follow.
  3. Eyes on the prize. As a fan watching this game, take it this way: a win is fun because your team played well and defeated a rival, and a loss is fine too because it improves the value of Philly’s draft picks in a trade. At this point in the season, it’s hard to find enjoyment as a fan, but if you take this approach I tend to find watching the Flyers is more enjoyable, regardless of the outcome. I definitely did my fair share of that in the Dave Hakstol years.

Game Day Tunes

This is the best Earth, Wind & Fire song. I will be taking no disputing opinions at this time.

Happy game day, and as always, go Flyers.