There is a new dynamic as the Philadelphia Flyers enter game two of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The Flyers are behind in the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time. It has been since January 7th, 2020, when Philadelphia lost consecutive games. After game one, it is tough to believe the New York Islanders will not take game two. The Flyers are in a must-win scenario today at 3pm.
Both teams took a rest day on Tuesday. Today is the first game of a back-to-back. Barry Trotz was not blown away by his own team’s performance in game one, and Alain Vigneault knows his team needs to come out hot in game two.
Game Two Storyline
The Philadelphia Flyers’ lineup needs a new look. The first line has been out of sorts since early on in the Montreal Canadiens series. Getting that band back together is long overdue. Claude Giroux needs to rejoin Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek because that trio is the best forechecking unit the Flyers have. Reintroducing James van Riemsdyk and debuting Morgan Frost is worth a mention too.
What forward is the odd man out? If Morgan Frost receives an opportunity, it is both Derek Grant and Nate Thompson. Since the Philadelphia Flyers did not practice on Tuesday, the probability of Frost making his debut is very low. Inserting James van Riemsdyk is still an option. Removing Thompson or Grant may as well be a coin toss.
Nate Thompson has been a help on the penalty kill, but his Corsi has been downright miserable. He has won 60.1% of his overall playoff faceoffs while Derek Grant has won 50.7% of his. When contributing to scoring, Grant has two assists, and Thompson has a goal. Advanced metrics, such as Corsi, shows that Grant has been the better of the two players in all hockey scenarios. If van Riemsdyk is injected into the Philadelphia Flyers lineup, it would have to be at the expense of Thompson.
I have given this some thought. This is the lineup for the forwards that I would not mind seeing:
Trends in the right direction begin with coaching. Today, Alain Vigneault needs to make the right decisions with his lineup to find a new angle against the New York Islanders. Putting Claude Giroux back on the first line may break a scoring drought for him and Sean Couturier. In the regular season, that first line was able to storm the scoreboard in three games against the Islanders. Jakub Voracek and Travis Konecny were two other hot hands.
Carter Hart will always be a player at the center of attention. While it was nice to see him earn back-to-back shutout victories in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, I think the Philadelphia Flyers should have rested him in the game five loss. Brian Elliott should have started game five against the Montreal Canadiens, though Hart was the hot hand. Fatigue is a factor in the postseason, and being down one game to the New York Islanders means that Hart needs to help push the Flyers into a series lead heading into Saturday. If Philadelphia can climb out of this hole, Elliott deserves a look on Saturday.
Robert Hagg should be in the lineup today. Shuffling the defensive pairings means that players need to play a role they do not. I am on board with moving Shayne Gostisbehere to the first line with Ivan Provorov because they meshed together in Matt Niskanen‘s absence. To keep up with the New York Islanders’ speed at forward, the Philadelphia Flyers need to be quick defensively. Niskanen pairing with Hagg on the third line provides very quality depth and removes Justin Braun, who has been struggling.
Everything in game one shows that the New York Islanders do not show any signs of stopping. Since the postseason, the Islanders forwards have been better than the Philadelphia Flyers. That comparison is not even close. Defensively, I do think the Flyers can hang with New York, but it depends on the third pairing. Carter Hart had a better body of work in the postseason than Semyon Varlamov, but that mood is shifting. Right now, Varlamov is riding almost the exact momentum Hart had after back-to-back shutouts.
Please, Philadelphia Flyers, prove me wrong. I’m taking the New York Islanders in game two.
Photo Credit: Alex Mcintyre