The Flyers were able to wipe the sweat from their foreheads after beating the Canadiens 4-2 in a series full of emotional u-turns. Their next challenge is to face a team who not only pushed past the 2018 Stanley Cup winners but won each of their three encounters against the Flyers this season. It’s time to scout the New York Islanders.
The two teams have met only four times in the playoffs, with the most recent occasion coming in the 1987 Division Finals. The Flyers are 3-1 all-time in those four series. But both teams are in very different places compared to the last time they played, a 5-3 loss back in March. So what can the Flyers expect?
Finding the wildcard
Alain Vigneault was the first to recognize the change in landscape since that frustrating 5-3 loss.
“Without a doubt those games were a long time ago.” He told reporters. “They’re a good team. They’ve got a good balance with their forwards. They got D’s that can move the puck and get pucks through to the net. Obviously they’re a team that defends extremely well. They are probably the biggest change in identity since Trotz got there. As a fact, he’s made that team play that full 200-foot game. Defense first. Make sure you don’t give up much and the other team will give you some looks. That’s how they’ve played. That’s how they’ve had success.”
Trotz could well be the wildcard here. After hoisting the Stanley Cup in 2018, the title-win extension triggered at a value that was clearly not representative of his worth. It didn’t take long for him to find a big payday elsewhere, and just a little longer to find success. One man who knows him very well though, is Matt Niskanen.
Nisky was suspended during the team’s series-clenching win, but will return to face his former Head Coach, a man with whom he spent five years learning under as a Washington Capital. Niskanen has been a huge reason behind the Flyers’ success this year, and his familiarity with an old friend might further ignite that fire.
“There’s some common trends. Their structure, plays that they look for in the offensive zone, a lot of east-west stuff. I’ll try to relay that message. Hopefully, that’ll give me an advantage on the ice, knowing what might happen and how they want to play. Part of being a good defender is knowing what your opponent likes to do.”
AV has been breaking down the tape on his upcoming opponent and is holding his head high coming into the matchup. His observations set off a trend of notes that other players and personnel have made.
“Our team has changed. Our team has found another level and I believe still can find another level. I’ve watched their games against Florida and I’ve watched obviously their games in the last playoff round against Washington. It gives us a good idea of how they’re going to play and now we’ve got to get our team geared up to play the way we can.”
Ivan Provorov: They play tight. Good defensively. When they have opportunities, they try to score. I think we just got to play our game. Keep playing fast. Control the puck and not give them any chances to score.
Kevin Hayes: They’re a division opponent obviously. They’re a great team. There’s a reason why they won so quickly against the Capitals. They got a good goalie and play great team defense. They got some good forwards. I think we might have split during the year. I’m pretty sure we’ll go watch some film and prepare the best we can for the games.
Chuck Fletcher: I think familiarity is certainly part of it. I think going back to the last question, I think the key is how you continue to adapt, evolve and get your game going. We have four games in five and half days starting Monday, so there’s not a lot of practice time. You are going to have to come in with the right mindset and make quick adjustments. Get your game to a high level very quickly.
I’ve been watching a lot of games here. Obviously we’re spending a lot of time over at Scotiabank watching as many games as we can. I think they’ve played as well as any team in our bubble here in Toronto. They’ve found their game very quickly. They play with purpose, structure and identity, and have some skill up front too. They have three lines that can score. They’re really a good hockey team. I can’t really speak to exactly where they were before the pause. Certainly they’re a team that has found their game really quickly and they’re playing very well. That’s a credit to their coaching staff and players.
Sean Couturier: We ran into some adversity there a little bit. A lot of emotions. I kind of expect the same kind of series here against the Islanders. They’re pretty disciplined in the way they play structure-wise. It’s going to be emotional, and important to stay patient and stick with it.
Travis Konecny: Yeah, we do play similar styles. I also think we took our game to another level. We adapted and changed a little bit as the season went on. We never got a chance to play them later on. From what I’ve watched, they’re on the top of their game. They play well. They play smart and hard. It’s going to be a good challenge for us.
Photo Credit: Alex Mcintyre