Spying on the Saboteur: Philadelphia Flyers vs New York Islanders

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Tonight, the Philadelphia Flyers attempt to exact revenge on the New York Islanders with a victory at home.

Revenge is keeping a receipt and cashing in to settle a score. Battles are lost, leaving a disgusting taste. In 2020, the New York Islanders eliminated the Philadelphia Flyers in the seventh game of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. The adage is “revenge is a dish best served cold.” Tonight, it can be served on home ice.

Tonight, the Flyers host the Islanders at At the Wells Fargo Center. This date has been circled on the calendar since Philadelphia exited the Stanley Cup playoffs last September.

A season ago, the Islanders were a constant headache for the Flyers. Failing to advance in a game seven is the epitome of “so close, but so far.” Alain Vigneault has vowed to bring physicality and intensity to his roster because of their shortcomings against the Islanders.

Tonight, Philadelphia has a message to send. In doing so, the hit count needs to spike. The Islanders are one of the fastest teams in the NHL. What will happen when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?

New York Islanders – Forward Spotlight

Mathew Barzal tallied an assist during a 6-3 loss on Thursday to the Washington Capitals. He notched that point on a powerplay opportunity following a tripping penalty assessed to Tom Wilson. The Islanders were out to a hot start against a team that has yet to lose in regulation. Unfortunately, they squandered a three-goal lead. The Capitals rallied to a five-goal second period.

An overwhelming majority of Islanders skaters finished with a minus rating in Washington. Barzal is averaging a point per game (3G, 4A) in 2020-2021. One of the best ways the Flyers can mitigate the damage from Barzal is through drawing penalties. This season, Philadelphia has been able to execute on the powerplay. Special teams opportunities are crucial to slowing the Islanders in the first period.

New York Islanders – Defenseman Spotlight

Noah Dobson has stepped into a bigger role with the Islanders in 2020-2021. His time with the powerplay unit has increased drastically from a season ago. Dobson has nearly matched his total powerplay ice-time from 2019-2020 in seven games this season. The Flyers have taken their fair share of untimely penalties this season. To date, the penalty-kill unit in Philadelphia has improved but remains too busy.

Dobson also notched an assist, picking up the secondary to Barzal’s primary on Thursday. The two skaters in the spotlight thrive on extra-man opportunities. Similar to Barzal, reducing the impact Dobson has means playing a disciplined brand of hockey. The Flyers need to shoot aggressively. They’ll thrive by making one pass and placing a puck on the net.

New York Islanders – Goaltender Spotlight

Semyon Varlamov struggled mightly against the Capitals. He gave up eight goals in two games. Of those eight, only two came on the powerplay. Washington created the blueprint on how to beat Varlamov. Before visiting the Capitals, he only allowed one goal in three games.

Shooting from the blue-line will create scoring opportunities for Philadelphia. The Flyers personnel can take quality shots. Vigneault will call upon Ivan Provorov, Shayne Gostisbehere, and Erik Gustafsson to pepper Varlamov from the blue-line. Deflection goals and player screens create the formula to score goals. James van Riemsdyk could have himself a game in front of the crease.

Philadelphia Flyers Phlight Deck

System Check

Only once this season has Philadelphia been able to outshoot their opponent. In doing so, the Flyers are 1-0. Who would’ve thought!? Despite that, Philadelphia is tied for second in the Mass Mutual Eastern Division with a 5-2-1 record. The ability to score on a small sample size of shots has been remarkable.

Part of that is the lack of a league-wide preseason. Powerplay units across the NHL are producing while penalty-kill units are not as effective. For the Flyers, many of their goals are a product of high-percentage shots. That is the concept of Vigneault’s system. Fewer high-percentage shots have been as effective as a high quantity of shots on goal.

Morin To Make Forward Debut

Speaking of Vigneault and what he wants of his players, Samuel Morin will enter tonight’s lineup. Technically, this is not a debut for Morin. A season ago, he began the 2019-2020 season as a defenseman. Tonight, his role is vastly different. He’ll take to the ice at the Wells Fargo Center as a left-wing.

Vigneault made it clear that he was not impressed by the team’s physicality against the Islanders during the 2020 Eastern Conference Semifinals. Converting Morin from a defenseman to a winger is part of his solution. During training camp, Morin acknowledged that his game mimicks Matt Martin, a current Islander. It is a bold strategy from Philadelphia. One that, in theory, could pay dividends.

TK to the Bench?

During the 3-1 Flyers victory over the New Jersey Devils, Travis Konecny’s ice-time decreased in the third period. No injuries were announced. During a team morning skate, Konecny worked with the extra skaters while Morin skated with the lineup. Vigneault will mention further detail before tonight’s game. If Konecny is a healthy scratch, Vigneault could be sending a message that he expects more consistency from the leader in team scoring a season ago.

Philadelphia Myers Returns

He’s fired up to return to the lineup alongside Travis Sanheim. According to Philippe Myers, his ribs “can’t get worse.” The team doctors have cleared Myers, providing stability to a defense that has been suspect against top forwards. For the first time this season, Philadelphia is healthy from a defensive aspect. A clear picture of how the Flyers defense can perform will be painted versus the Islanders.

Personnel Notes

Citing the personnel from the morning skate, it seems Philadelphia will start Gustafsson and Justin Braun on the third pair. That leaves Nate Prosser and Robert Hagg as potential extra defensemen. Considering the blue-print to scoring on Varlamov, Gustafsson could be the right move to optimize the powerplay chances. Braun, who hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire defensively, has another opportunity to turn his season performance around.

On the taxi squad, Isaac Ratcliffe is available. He missed all of training camp with a fractured rib. Once Ratcliffe is healthy, expect him to report to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.

Flyers vs Islanders Prediction

Through seven games, the Flyers still have a ton of moving parts. Returning skaters will offer stability and increase chemistry. The Islanders will start strong as always. Vigneault will have to keep up with the right adjustments to outsmart Barry Trotz. This game will be won on the bench as a meeting of the minds plays out. As Philadelphia looks to settle in with their personnel decisions, the Islanders may take the first meeting, 4-2.

Photo Credit: Alex McIntyre