It’s on to the second round for the Flyers, their first venture past the first round since 2012. After a difficult battle with the Montreal Canadiens in the first round, the Flyers advance to take on the New York Islanders, who ousted the Washington Capitals in five games. Reseeding pitted the lowest-seed Islanders against the top-seeded Flyers, while the two middle seeds, the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Boston Bruins, will do battle in the other Eastern Conference matchup.
The Flyers come into this series limping a bit after dealing with a tougher-than-expected Montreal team. The Islanders come into this series after handling the top team in the Metropolitan Division, the Washington Capitals. Momentum appears to be on New York’s side, but it would be a mistake to discount or inflate either of these teams for what they did in the first round.
The roles were reversed in the first round for both these teams. During the regular season, the Flyers accumulated 227 goals, good for seventh best in the NHL. Their 3.29 goals per game during the regular season put them at seventh in the NHL as well. Travis Konecny, their top regular season scorer, had 24 goals and 37 assists in 66 games for the Flyers. In the Montreal series however, he has one assist to his name.
Jakub Voracek is leading the Flyers in scoring so far in these playoffs (discounting the round-robin,) notching four goals and three assists. Giroux is quietly second in scoring, adding four helpers for good measure. Ivan Provorov, Sean Couturier, and Kevin Hayes are all tied for third in scoring with three points. All-in-all, the Flyers have gotten contributions from 13 different players so far this postseason.
The Islanders are experiencing almost the exact opposite of what the Flyers are currently. While putting up the 24th most goals (189) during the regular season, they have 17 goals in five games against Washington in the first round. Their 189 goals during the regular season was good for 2.78 goals per game, 22nd in the league. Now, they’re averaging 3.4 goals per game in the playoffs, almost double what the Flyers are averaging (1.86).
Their leading scorer during the regular season comes as no surprise. Mathew Barzal posted 19 goals and 41 assists in 68 games for the Isles, with Brock Nelson adding 54 points, and Anders Lee accumulating 43 in the same amount of games. In the playoffs, Josh Bailey is leading the way with two goals and four assists. Brock Nelson (1g, 3a,) Barzal (2g, 2a,) and Anthony Beauvillier (3g, 1a) are tied for second in scoring with four points apiece. Overall, 16 players on the Islanders have contributed to the score sheet during the series against Washington.
It’s no secret that Barry Trotz coaches a defensive-style. The Islanders play a boring style of hockey, but that boring style works. In these playoffs, the Islanders are blocking 18.62 shots per 60 minutes of play, which is the most among all remaining teams in the playoffs. The Islanders as a whole allowed eight goals in five games against Washington, an average of 1.6. During the regular season, New York allowed 190 goals, tied for the fifth least in the league. Their average of 2.79 goals allowed per game was ninth best in the NHL.
The Flyers are on the opposite end of that spectrum. In six games, the Flyers gave up 13 goals to the Candiens. During the regular season, the Flyers gave up 191 goals, standing at eighth in the league. Their 2.77 goals against in the regular season ties them with Tampa Bay for seventh in the NHL. Their 2.17 goals against per game against Montreal was much better, but needs to continue if they want to keep pace with the Islanders.
Where the Flyers find themselves at an advantage is scoring defenseman. The Flyers have five defensemen who scored over 15 points during the regular season, compared to three for the Islanders. The Flyers also boast the attempted resurgence of Shayne Gostisbehere, who presents a unique opportunity to have an offensively gifted defenseman patrolling the blueline.
Goaltending is where things get a bit murky. On one hand, you have a young, thriving goaltender in Carter Hart. On the other hand, you have a seasoned veteran in Semyon Varlamov who’s numbers show he’s been great so far in these playoffs. At the surface, you have a goaltender matchup. Peeling back the layers, it’s much more than that.
Yes, both teams have iced a solid defense so far in these playoffs. However, the Islanders defense stands out a little bit compared to the Flyers defense. With regards to shots faced, Varlamov has only faced 124 in the five games against Washington. That averages out to just under 25 shots per game. On the flip side, Carter Hart has faced 171 shots in six games. Averaged out, that’s 28.5 shots per game. Three shots may not seem like a whole lot more per game, but it adds up over the course of time.
This isn’t to negate Varlamov’s performance thus far. He’s been stellar, turning away 116 of those 124 shots for a .935 save percentage and a 1.59 goals against average. Carter Hart, on the other hand, has turned away 160 of the 171 shots faced, good for a .936 save percentage and a 1.96 goals against average. The 5-0 game against Montreal really hurt Hart’s numbers, but the following two shutouts helped bolster that impressive resume. The following series should really help clarify which goalie is having the better postseason.
This comparison is about as close as it gets. On one hand, you have Barry Trotz. Trotz has coached 1,674 games in the NHL, spanning three teams (Nashville, Washington, New York,) and 21 seasons. His career record stands at 845-618-60-151, good for the fourth most wins among any coach in NHL history. He’s also coached the third most games in NHL history as well. Trotz has two Jack Adams awards to his name and a Stanley Cup to boot. The stats speak for themselves, Trotz is one of the best coaches the NHL has ever seen.
Behind Philadelphia’s bench sits Alain Vigneault. AV has a 689-456-35-105 record, having coached the 16th most games in NHL history and sixth most amongst active coaches. His 689 wins puts him at 10th all time, and fifth among all active head coaches. Vigneault has one Jack Adams award, multiple President’s Trophies, but a Stanley Cup has eluded him to this point in his coaching career.
Basing a decision off of these numbers, Trotz is the clear-cut favorite here. Factor in how far Vigneault has taken the Flyers since the beginning of the year, the race gets a lot closer. While Trotz has done wonders for the Islanders team, AV stepped in and took this team that had little-to-no expectations at the beginning of the year, to an at-times Stanley Cup favorite.
Good luck forecasting this one. While Philadelphia as the one seed should tilt the scales in their favor, their performance against Montreal in the opening round doesn’t instill much confidence. Even as the six seed, New York looked dominant against the Metropolitan Divisions champion Washington Capitals. In this tournament, seeds be damned. Right now, New York is hot and the Flyers just aren’t. Simply put, the Flyers won’t win this series if they approach it the way they approached their series against the Habs.
Momentum sides with the Isles, but the Flyers are deeper, have more firepower (on paper) than the Islanders, and their special teams are either even, their penalty kill, or better, their powerplay. New York allows fewer shots, but the Flyers average more goals per game. The Flyers should win this series, but not if they don’t play like the one seed they proved they were in the round robin.
Mandatory Credit – John McCreary/Icon Sportswire