John Tortorella’s Philadelphia Flyers (10-9-1) return to Elmont, New York, Saturday night to face Lane Lambert’s New York Islanders (8-6-5) for the second time in four nights. Game time at UBS Arena at 7:30 p.m. ET.
The match will be televised on NBCSP+. The radio show airs on 93.3 WMMR with an online simulcast at 24/7 Radio Flyers.
Wednesday night in Elmont, the Islanders beat the Flyers by a score of 3-2. Philly fought back from 2-0 and 3-1 deficits to twice narrow the gap to just one goal, but they were unable to tie the game.
Anders Lee opened the scoring for the Islanders, who then received two goals from Brock Nelson. The Flyers received goals from Cam York and Joel Farabee (on a great setup from Bobby Brink). Ilya Sorokin was exceptional in net for the Islanders, stopping 34 of 36 shots. Carter Hart played well overall and had no chances on two of New York’s three goals. Sorokin was just a little better that night.
On Black Friday afternoon at the Wells Fargo Center, the Flyers suffered their second straight loss in a 3-1 loss to the New York Rangers. The Flyers were guilty of some breakdowns with and without the puck, and paid the price.
On a more positive note, the game could have easily gotten out of control after the Rangers took an early 2-0 lead early in the first period. To a large extent, however, the Flyers stabilized and the score never got out of hand. Sean Couturier scored Philadelphia’s only goal, assisted by Nick Seeler and Cam Atkinson.
Here are five things to watch for in Saturday’s rematch against the Islanders:
1. Solve Sorokin
Sorokin was masterful in Wednesday’s game against the Flyers. Philly generated, according to Natural Stat Trick’s calculations, 40 bona fide scoring chances (many were blocked or missed the net). Of these, Philly generated 16 A-level chances. The goalkeeper made one fantastic save after another.
The Islanders started Semyon Varlamov in goal against the Ottawa Senators on Friday. Sorokin will return to the net on Saturday.
How can the Flyers fare better against Sorokin this time around? The same way they would against any top goalie. Avert his eyes with the screens. Create diversions. Generate scrambles and get the loose pucks first.
This may of course be easier said than done. But if the Flyers want to get a win against Sorokin and the Islanders, these are the kind of games that can produce enough goal support to win.
While Hart started in net Wednesday and Friday, the Flyers could choose Samuel Ersson to start at Elmont on Saturday. Ersson started and won last Sunday in a home win over the Columbus Blue Jackets.
2. Getting shots on net
The Islanders’ shot-blocking prowess is a large part of the reason the Flyers have struggled against New York in recent years. Although Sorokin was strained on several occasions during Wednesday’s match, there were even more occasions where shooting lanes were closed or rushed shot attempts went off target.
On Wednesday, the Flyers generated 81 shot attempts in a game decided in regulation. That’s a huge volume of shot attempts. However, the Islanders blocked 26 attempts. 17 others missed the net.
In Saturday’s return game against the Islanders, the Flyers need to be more efficient in getting their shot attempts through human traffic and on target to force Sorokin into making the saves. This is especially true if the Flyers can’t generate a similar volume of shot attempts.
3. Stop continuing the game
The numbers don’t lie, and as such, this statement bears repeating: If the Flyers score Saturday’s first goal, they’ll give themselves a strong chance of finding ways to win the game.
During the Flyers’ recent five-game winning streak, they scored first in every game (in fact, Philly never trailed at any point). At the time of scoring the first goal, the Flyers were 10-1-0 on the season.
In Wednesday’s game, the Flyers fell behind early as a combination of a turnover, a coverage break, and Hart’s inability to block the near side post led to the goal. Lee in the first half who opened the scoring. On Friday, the Rangers scored twice in the first two minutes.
When giving up the first goal of a game, the Flyers are 0-8-1. Over time, the Flyers will have to learn to find their way to more wins, even on nights when they have to play from behind. Across the league, however, the team that scores first will win more than 70 percent of the time.
4. Flyers special teams vs. Islanders special teams
After Friday’s game against the Rangers, Tortorella was in no mood to discuss the team’s 0-for-6 performance on the power play over a full 12 minutes of power play. However, this is a topic that needs improvement.
The Flyers have significantly improved their offensive zone entries on the power play compared to last season. They need to win more initial faceoffs in the offensive zone to establish immediate possession and set up. However, the biggest problem is their lack of execution in creating – or finishing – high-level scoring chances.
When they succeeded, it was often because a rebound (off a defender, a carom on the back boards, etc.) escaped them. There were few chances that could be accurately described as “surgical”. However, when an opposing PK was carved, Philly struggled to finish.
During this time, many staff members moved back and forth between PP1 and PP2 – or were used intermittently in one or the other – and few performed well enough to merit becoming deployment elements.
It’s a much more encouraging story when it comes to numerical inferiority. The Flyers enter Saturday’s game with an 82.8 success rate (53 for 64) shorthanded with five shorthanded goals (two each by Travis Konecny and Sean Walker, one by Ryan Poehling). Adjusted for penalty kill, the Flyers have a net penalty percentage of 90.6, ranking fifth in the NHL.
For the Islanders, the penalty has been a major difficulty this season. They rank 31st on PK (69.8 percent). The Isles held the Flyers to just one power play (Philly didn’t score) on Wednesday, so their struggles killing penalties are no longer a factor.
Conversely, New York’s power play enters Saturday’s game ranked 9th in the league. The Isles were 12 for 51 (23.5 percent) with one shorthanded goal allowed.
5. Behind Enemy Lines: The New York Islanders
The Islanders face more travel this week than the Flyers, even though New York is the home team for the Wednesday and Saturday games. On Friday, the Islanders were in Ottawa to face the Senators while the Flyers were at home.
New York won 5-3 against the Sens. Kyle Palmieri, Oliver Wahlstrom, Mathew Barzal and Simon Holmström (winning goal) scored for the Islanders. Varlamov stopped 28 of 31 shots on goal.
The Islanders have won three straight games. They were winless (0-4-3) in their previous seven matches.