The Hat Trick: Three things we learned in Flyers’ opening preseason games

Philadelphia Flyers @ NY Islanders
New York Islanders Oliver Wahlstrom (54) battles Philadelphia Flyers Travis Sanheim (6) for control of the puck during the third period of a preseason NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019 in Uniondale, N.Y. (Joseph D. Sullivan/Newsday via AP)

Just five days ago, the Flyers rookies took on the Islanders rookies in an overtime shootout loss. Some of those players who shined in that rookie game saw their first NHL action at the Wells Fargo Center in game one and at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in game two. The whole “Fly Or Die” mantra installed in Philadelphia this season was put to the test under the new leadership of Alain Vigneault. Indeed it was time to see how the “new blood” played with the Flyers veterans.

At the Wells Fargo Center, the Philadelphia Flyers lost their preseason opener, 3-1, in regulation. The following night, the New York Islanders would remain victorious in an overtime win against the Flyers, 3-2. While none of these games have any merit on the regular season, it does give the Philadelphia coaching staff an opportunity to see what they have on their roster. The whole point of preseason is to see what rookies are working well with veterans, which lines need to be strategically placed where, and what players are ready to play a role on the Flyers roster. A few different things stood out in these couple of games.

The Flyers Need To Convert Scoring Opportunities

When the Philadelphia Flyers played the New York Islanders at the Wells Fargo Center in the first game of this preseason, they left scoring opportunities on the board in the first and third periods. Seymon Varlamov snatched Mikhail Vorobyev’s shot out of the air right in front of the crease. Arguably more impressive was Christopher Gibson who denied James van Riemsdyk, Jakub Voracek, and Kevin Hayes.

The next night, the Philadelphia Flyers improved at converting even-strength scoring chances. However, a big issue with the Flyers remains when they go on the powerplay. Early in the second period in game two, Philadelphia was on a four-minute powerplay. Thomas Greiss prevented the Flyers from extending their lead. If Philadelphia is able to score on the powerplay, perhaps the game is salvaged with a win in regulation.

Chris Bigras helped boost the Philadelphia Flyers offense on Tuesday night. Bigras was credited with an assist on the Flyers’ goal as his wrist shot was deflected in from the point by Michael Raffl. Later, Bigras scored one of his own. This time it was a wrist shot from the blue line that looked like it was deflected in by Maxim Sushko. He had a hand in both of Philadelphia’s goals in the 3-2 loss.

Goaltending Wasn’t A Big Weakness

The Philadelphia Flyers took a page out of the New York Islanders book in game two of the preseason with the way that goals were scored. Chris Bigras scored a goal with a wrist shot from the blue line and another was deflected by Michael Raffl. When the Islanders visited the Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center, both of their goals were from the blue line on screened shots. That’s a textbook move for being an effective scorer.

Brian Elliott and Alex Lyon played in net for the Philadelphia Flyers in the preseason opener. Thomas Hickey trickled a puck right through Elliott’s five-hole for the New York Islanders’ first goal. The second goal was against Lyon when Lucas Sbisa’s shot rang off the left post and in the back of the net. In the first game, Elliott and Lyon did more good things than bad.

The goaltenders in the second meeting at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum for the Philadelphia Flyers were Carter Hart and Jean-Francois Berube. Hart looked like the goalie that all of Philadelphia wanted to see, not allowing the New York Islanders to score.

After being replaced by Jean-Francois Berube, Matthew Barzal of the Islanders began to set up goals for his teammates. Derick Brassard had a good look at the right side of the net after a pass from Barzal, resulting in New York’s first goal. To force overtime, Barzal fed a pass to Jordan Eberle, who beat Berube with a minute and a half to play in regulation. In overtime, Berube made a save but wasn’t able to stay with the puck lying idle next to his leg pad. Mason Jobst tapped that in for the game-winner.

The Flyers Penalty Kill Was Perfect

In the preseason opener, Isaac Ratcliffe picked up a minor on a crosscheck after defending Chris Stewart who was checked along the boards by Kyle Burroughs. The Philadelphia Flyers penalty kill unit was able to shut down the New York Islanders because of the goaltending. With about three minutes left in the second period, the Flyers were down five-on-three and remained perfect on killing off the Islanders’ man advantage. Alex Lyon kept New York out of the powerplay goal column in the third period, shutting off the left goalpost on a good scoring chance.

That trend continued into the second game in New York, which is fascinating to see. On special teams, if you cannot convert scoring opportunities on the powerplay, then you have to bear down on the defensive side. That is exactly what the Philadelphia Flyers have shown they can do and it’s exciting to watch, especially against an explosive offense like the New York Islanders have. Jean-Francois Berube came up big on the penalty kill, freezing the puck after the crease got jammed up.

The Philadelphia Flyers continue the preseason against the Boston Bruins in Boston on September 19th, 2019 at 7 pm. If the penalty kill can continue to dominate and scoring chances can be converted on the powerplay, the Flyers can find themselves on the winning side against tougher opponents. A few players I will be keeping my eye on are German Rubtsov, Chris Bigras, and Chris Stewart.

Mandatory Photo Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan/Newsday via AP