This season was bespoke to be a roller coaster of emotions.
John Tortorella told everyone that this team would struggle. The Philadelphia Flyers (11-9-1) revisited Long Island, searching for their first victory at the UBS Arena. On Wednesday, they lost to the New York Islanders, 3-2. Sam Ersson received the start on the back end of a New York back-to-back. He went head-to-head with Ilya Sorokin.
Tonight, not only did Philadelphia earn their first victory at the UBS Arena, but they also kept their season series alive with the Islanders. A season split, there’s more to be told when these teams meet again in April.
Philadelphia Flyers at New York Islanders
Tortorella made changes to his lineup. In addition to Ersson starting, Rasmus Ristolainen made his season debut alongside Marc Staal, replacing Yegor Zamula. Morgan Frost was reinserted into the lineup, replacing Bobby Brink.
“It’s his [Ristolainen] first game. He played well; played simple, made us look bigger back there. He’s had a lot of time to get ready; he’s done his work.”John Tortorella; 11/25/2023
On Friday, the Flyers were beaten in the transition often. They didn’t have support on the backcheck, leading to sloppier team play as the game progressed. Before revisiting the Islanders, those errors were addressed.
“I coached differently because we sucked last night away from the puck. We have changed our style this year in wanting to be more offensive and wanting to take more chances, not being afraid to give up odd-man rushes when we are aggressive offensively. Against the Rangers, we were just ridiculous as far as how many odd-man’s we gave up. We tried to change our game to be good away from the puck without disturbing our transition on offense.”John Tortorella; 11/25/2023
In the opening minutes, Philadelphia got stuck on defense. Ersson was getting peppered with shots until the Flyers could clear the puck. Noah Cates led the Islanders’ defense into a pocket of the offensive zone, opening up a shooting lane for Sorokin to take on. After a save by Sorokin, Travis Sanheim made a shutdown defensive play on a rush from Bo Horvat.
“We struggled the first three or four minutes; I don’t think anyone really wanted the puck, it looked like. After we got going and started forechecking; we knew they were banged up in the blue line, their defense played a lot of minutes yesterday, so we were just trying to get it in and start forechecking.”John Tortorella; 11/25/2023
Ryan Poehling served a minor penalty for tripping. Scott Laughton, Sean Couturier, and Sean Walker all had a hand in killing that penalty. Couturier was on time on the penalty kill throughout this game, where Philadelphia finished 3/3.
Joel Farabee, Poehling, and Cates generated notable scoring chances against the Islanders, but Couturier had the best chance of the period. Travis Konecny located Couturier from the goal line to the slot at point-blank range, but Sorokin didn’t allow the goal.
“I think he [Cates] took a chance and tried to make more offensive plays. That’s the thing that’s been missing in Noah’s game. He’s very comfortable playing the defensive part; he did it all last year. We’re asking him to do more. I thought he made an attempt to do that tonight; he held onto pucks. There are certain pucks just entering the blue line offensively where, earlier in the year, he’s just throwing them in deep. He held onto it and made some plays. We’re going to need to get some offense out of him.”John Tortorella; 11/25/2023
Instead of starting behind the pace in the second period, the Flyers led the charge. Walker and Frost got pucks deep into the offensive zone during their shifts, translating to more shooting lanes or at least forcing Islanders defensemen to block shots. Owen Tippett had the best chance in the second period to squeeze a puck over Sorokin, but the save was made. Ristolainen put a healthy slapshot on goal, too.
Ersson kept denying the Islanders. Horvat intercepted a pass from Staal, but the confident backup found his positioning and matched Sorokin. Later in the period, Staal made up for his turnover, laying out and deflecting a pass on a rush led by Pierre Engvall.
Atkinson had a chance to put Philadelphia ahead on the powerplay, but Sorokin made a glove save look simple. Frost made a few good moves to extend the possession and pressure on the powerplay, and his work did not go unnoticed by Tortorella in this hard-fought battle.
Farabee nearly beat Sorokin on back-to-back sequences. On the first, he missed a tip-in wide when Poehling created a quick two-on-one rush. On the second, Farabee established his presence net-front as the puck slid outside the post, safely away from the goal line. Sorokin held his ground, and Ersson matched his performance to close out regulation, 0-0. Based on shot volume and scoring chances, Sorokin faced a much larger, more dangerous sample size during three periods.
In overtime, Sanheim and Simon Holmstrom took the first shooting chances. Konecny had a breakaway opportunity, but Sorokin kept the scoreboard blank. Going the opposite way, the Islanders had numbers closing in on Ersson, but Walker used his body to endure a collision while disrupting the puck’s path. It was a picture-perfect defensive play in a three-on-three transition.
More stellar goaltending featured Ersson denying Mathew Barzal and Horvat. Sorokin answered to close out a scoreless overtime period, denying Cam Atkinson and Walker.
Do you want evidence that Tortorella appreciated Frost? He stuck him out there with the game on the line in a shootout. If there was an opportunity to get his engine humming in an offensive role, Tortorella presented the chance to Frost.
Every shot was saved except for one. Sorokin allowed one death blow. Tyson Foerster scored the lone goal, in regulation, overtime, or shootout, to put the Flyers in the win column for the first time at the UBS Arena, 1-0.
“I think he [Foerster] had eight shots, five hit the net. He’s been close for quite a while. I guess it doesn’t count as a goal for him, but it will count for him. Hopefully, it just releases him. He’s done everything else except score.”John Tortorella; 11/25/2023
Next, the Philadelphia Flyers host the Carolina Hurricanes on November 28th at 7:30pm.
(AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)