Game preview: Can the Flyers sweep the Islanders?

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The Flyers are gearing up for the second leg of a back-to-back series against the Islanders. After a Scott Laughton goal fired the team to an overtime win that left AV wiping sweat from his forehead, the team will be hoping for a more complete 60-minute effort tonight.

That was the first regular-season victory against the Islanders since March 9th, 2019. During that win in 2019, Ryan Hartman scored his eleventh goal of the season. Fast forward to January 30th, 2021; Alain Vigneault records his first regular-season win versus the Islanders as the Flyers head coach. The same goes for Hart, who notched his first-ever regular-season victory against the Islanders. Tonight, Philadelphia attempt to sweep the Islanders in their first series of 2020-2021.

Under the Flyers microscope

A 3-2 win may look good on the surface and critiquing a victory is never fun, but the Flyers cannot play the way they did last night and expect to win. Travis Konecny will return to the lineup after being benched last night in the hopes of bringing some shooting production during even-strength looks.

Being outshot isn’t new for the Flyers this season, but they’re attempting the seventh-fewest shots of any team in the league despite holding the NHL’s second-highest shooting percentage. The shots are clinical, but not plentiful and that has to change against a team as fast as the Isles.

“Playing the right way 5 on 5 is getting back to basics.” Kevin Hayes said after last night’s close shave. “Getting the puck deep, limiting their chances, generating more chances than the other team and trying to get yourself the best chance to win. I thought in the first obviously we did that, and I thought we took a step back in the second and third. We have to find a way to do it for a full 60 and that is what our team is working at.”

The Islanders have had a slower start to the season than many expected. At 3-4-1, they won’t want to head back home with another loss after falling to the team they eliminated in a seven-game series during the playoffs last year. A big part of that will come down to special teams.

The Flyers killed off four power plays last night in a sloppy affair and are actually now 9-for-9 on the PK over their last three games. We know that special teams had been an offseason focus for AV and Mike Yeo and it’s nice to see the defensive end of things firing on all cylinders.

Brian Elliott will get the start in net tonight and comes into the matchup undefeated through two starts. A shutout over the Sabres was an impressive way to start the campaign and Moose has been solid ever since, maintaining the level of comfort at the crease that the team had worked so hard to build after years of unrest. Elliott comes into tonight’s game with a .938 save percentage to face an Islanders team who rank 29th in goals this season. Is it time for shutout number two, electric boogaloo? He’ll need a lot of help from his forwards if that’s to be the case.

Aside from Elliott starting and Konecny returning to the lineup, Vigneault made another change to the third defensive pair. Robert Hagg will substitute Erik Gustafsson on the third pair with Justin Braun. Vigneault indicated that his benching of Gustafsson is not an indictment of his game performance. Hagg is in tonight’s lineup because Vigneault wants to keep him in a groove. In a season where teams will face each other eight times, rotating defensemen is a good strategy.

Under the Islanders Microscope

Jean-Gabriel Pageau has not been able to get off to the start he had hoped. This season, he’s only contributed three points (1G, 2A) through eight games. Though Pageau only tallied a few points this season, he is still seventh in team scoring. It isn’t as much that Pageau is struggling. The Islanders are having a difficult time scoring goals.

Pageau shouldn’t go unnoticed. He executes the finer details on the ice. Look for Pageau to make some noise tonight at the Wells Fargo Center. During the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs, he scored three goals against the Flyers. If the Islanders are to win tonight, he’ll need to find a way to get the puck behind Brian Elliott.

Ryan Pulock flashed a few moments of brilliant hockey last night in the overtime loss to Philadelphia. He held down the blue-line, containing the puck in the offensive zone during the Islanders’ first goal of the night. On the play, Adam Pelech set Jordan Eberle with a backdoor one-timer. While Pulock did not gather a point, he improved to an even plus-minus rating to that point. Overall, Pulock recovered from a rough first period.

Pulock was the most stable defenseman on the Islanders during last night’s contest. Defensively speaking, Pulock and Pelech shifted the momentum away from the Flyers. Dictating the pace of the hockey game is one of the most crucial aspects of winning. The Islanders erased a two-goal deficit. Philadelphia happened to win five minutes of three-on-three hockey after regulation time expired.

Ilya Sorokin will start tonight for the Islanders. Semyon Varlamov will receive necessary rest in the back-to-back series. Last night, Varlamov wasn’t tested often. He allowed three goals on seventeen total shots.

Sorokin is a rookie looking for the first win of his NHL career. In his first two career starts, he’s allowed seven goals total. Against a rookie goaltender, the Flyers must find a way to win the shots on goal battle. He’ll be up against one of the most efficient goal-scoring teams in the NHL in his first season. Philadelphia creates high percent opportunities, which how they’ve ranked as the sixth-best scoring team in the league while owning an awful shot differential.

Prediction

The Philadelphia Flyers forwards are tailored for scoring while Elliott is riding high with a 2-0-0 record. On the flip side, the New York Islanders struggle with scoring goals while starting a rookie goaltender who’s still finding his rhythm. Tonight, the Flyers sweep the Islanders at home in the two-game series, 4-2.

Puck Drop is at 7PM EST. Stay locked in for post-game coverage!

Photo Credit: Alex Mcintyre

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