Back to the Future: Thoughts on Flyers 3, Islanders 2 (OT)

Scott Laughton Flyers
Photo credit: © Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

One thing I know for certain that didn’t happen during my three weeks (and counting) battle with COVID-19, is that I didn’t go back in time.

I saw a lot of doctors, but none of them were named Brown and there wasn’t a DeLorean parked outside my house when I got home from the hospital.

Yet, on Saturday, for some strange reason, despite the bitter cold temperatures outside, it suddenly felt like August again.

That’s when it hit me – I was watching the Flyers play the Islanders.

It was as if the playoff series between the two teams was being played on NBCSN Philly on repeat instead of something new.

You know the routine – Flyers play good for one period, Islanders completely dominate the other two. Somehow the score stays close, and then if it reaches overtime, yeah, the Flyers find a way to win a game they had no business winning.

And so it was, on the penultimate day of January, that for a couple hours we relived some of those crazy playoff games from last August, and this time it was Scott Laughton, scoring his first goal of the season in the extra session, to give the Flyers an unexpected 3-2 win over the Isles – just like he did in Game 5 of that second round series five months ago.

All three Flyers goals were pretty. What wasn’t was the fact that they were only able to muster 17 shots on goal, a mere 14 of which came in regulation.

After the first 14 minutes of the game, in which the Flyers were sensational, they were out shot by the Islanders 26-11.

The Islanders outhit the Flyers. They outworked the Flyers, winning more puck battles. They frustrated the Flyers with their relentless forecheck. The Flyers struggled to breakout. They struggled with the puck in the neutral zone. If they were fortunate enough to get into the Islanders zone, it was mostly one chance and done – and that didn’t always amount to a shot on goal.

I know I’ve typed all of these words before.

And yet, somehow the Flyers won the game.

It’s kind of befuddling, to be honest. The Flyers are 6-2-1 and yet, it’s blatantly obvious that this pace is completely unsustainable if they continue to play the way they played in the second and third period – which is what they’ve been doing a lot this season.

Yes, missing Sean Couturier for the better part of eight games has something to do with that, but Coots isn’t Wayne Gretzky. It’s not like he’s going to return to the lineup and singlehandedly flip the Flyers’ league-worst shot differential back to even-Steven.

No, this team is infuriating in its inability to handle hard pressure. Their defensemen get pinned. Their forwards are slow to help and the turnovers and lost battles continue to mount.

It ate away at coach Alain Vigneault so much that he scratched Travis Konecny for this game, coming off consecutive wins in New Jersey.

I’ll get to that shortly, but when the coach is taking one of the team’s top three players and sitting him because he’s not playing the right way, and replaces him in the lineup with a player playing a new position for the first time in any game (Sam Morin), you expect some sort of reaction from the players.

And for 13:55, that reaction was there. The Flyers skated. They hit. They forced turnovers. They created opportunities. They had New York on its heels.

And then momentum slowly started to shift, and never checked back in with the Flyers until the last shift of the game in which Laughton made a nice play and the Flyers won.

They go right back at it with the Islanders tonight. Unless they install a whole new strategy during the meetings in the afternoon before the game, we’ll likely see a lot of the same.

Meanwhile, here are some other things of note from this one:

Looking Like The Old Ghost

Shayne Gostisbehere has been through a lot the past two-plus seasons. Trade rumors. Injuries. Healthy Scratches. Poor play. More trade rumors. Frustration. More poor play. And then, when he’s finally healthy and ready to get a chance to prove he can get back to the player he once was, he gets COVID-19.

Oh, to be young again. Ghost is able to get back to playing hockey at the highest level less than three weeks after getting COVID-19 while I get out of breath answering the doorbell three weeks after I got it, but I digress…

Saturday was Ghost’s third game back with the Flyers, and truthfully, he’s gotten better and better with each game.

Frankly, the Flyers don’t win tonight if not for Gostisbehere, and he didn’t even score a goal.

Instead, he made not one, but two great plays that led to Flyers goals.

First, he helped set up what would be Kevin Hayes’ goal that gave the Flyers a 2-0 lead in the first period with an outstanding play to keep the puck in the offensive zone at the blue line.

If you missed it, watch again. It happens right off the bat in this video. Like two seconds in. The Islanders are trying to break out, Ghost steps up in the play, and keeps the puck in the zone at the blue line, tapping to Ivan Provorov who feeds it to James van Riemsdyk who makes a beauty of a pass to Kevin Hayes for the goal.

However, without that keep from Ghost, this play never happens.

He also made a hell of a play on the game-winner by Laughton.

First, he has an active stick which disrupts the play as the Islanders are trying to enter the Flyers zone. Then, he wins a 50/50 puck battle with Brock Nelson, and finally he feeds it out to Laughton who provides the heroics on the winning goal, his first career regular season overtime game-winner.

“He’s playing really good right now,” said captain Claude Giroux, who had a beauty of a saucer pass to set up the Flyers first goal (hang on, I’ll show you it in a minute). More from the captain:

“I’ve been through it. When you’ve had an injury, it takes you longer to get back to the player you want to be. Right now, you can see he is powerful. He’s making plays, he’s great defensively with his stick. When he’s on, he is one of our best D’s. To see him play the way he’s playing right now, and he was off for two weeks, it’s pretty impressive.”

It really is.

Sure, Ghost still makes a bad play here and there. He might gamble when he shouldn’t. But the difference now is, when he’s playing well and creating offense – especially off a defensive play like in overtime, you can live with those occasional blunders.

It’s when he’s not contributing that the mistakes stick out like a couple of sore thumbs.

Yes, it’s only been three games. But, if Ghost is able to provide this kind of play consistently over the course of the final 47 games, the Flyers defense might not be in as bad shape as people think.

High-Paid Talent Quietly Off to Strong Starts

OK, so maybe Jake Voracek hasn’t been that quiet. He’s made headlines for going after a reporter. He was a topic of conversation as a potential square peg in the round hole of coach Alain Vigneault’s system back before the season began and he is definitely the Flyers’ most outspoken player.

But, for all the consternation that Giroux, Voracek  and JVR seem to bring fans, specifically those who chose to share their thoughts on social media, they’re proving they’re worth their paychecks so far this season.

JVR is averaging a point-per game so far, is tied for the team lead in goals, and made a perfect pass on that Hayes goal I posted earlier where Ghost kept the puck in at the blue line.

Voracek has a six-game point streak after scoring the Flyers opening goal of the game. He now leads the team with 10 points in nine games.

Meanwhile, Giroux, who set up Voracek’s goal, is averaging a point-per-game with nine points in nine games.

Here’s the goal:

That saucer was so delicate, it could have had a cup of tea on top of it and not a drop would have spilled.

Seriously though, with all the other craziness that has gone on around the Flyers thus far – defensive woes, no shots, giving up too many shots, Carter Hart smashing his stick in frustration, the Couturier injury. The Phil Myers injury. Erik Gustafsson, the lone new player signed in the offseason, looking horrible, Sam Morin switching positions and now Travis Konecny getting benched, it’s easy to look past the fact that the Flyers big money forwards are actually putting up points at a very good clip.

The Konecny Situation

Look, I credit Vigneault for demanding more from his players. And if he wants to send a message to his players and scratch his leading goal scorer (tied) for a game, especially after a couple wins, then he has the cache to do that.

It makes sense too. Play at 5-on-5 has been dreadful for everyone, but it’s the guys toward the top of the lineup that bother the coach the most. They get the most ice time. They’re supposed to be the best players.

So, if you can’t play the full game the right way, then something needs to change.

“I believe that TK is one of our top three forwards with tremendous potential who is doing some things right, like going to the net and stopping and he’s scored a couple big goals for us,” Vigneault said before the game. “But I also believe that his 5-on-5 play is not where it needs to be. I’ve been talking to the players about it for some time. There are areas we need to be better… TK is the one tonight that is not going to play. He’s aware of it. I had a good conversation with him this morning and I expect him the next time he’s back in the lineup to play the right way.”

After the game Vigneault said Konecny will play tonight.

But, there was more from the coach on TK.

“I came here to Philly to win a Stanley Cup and to win a Stanley Cup there’s a certain way you have to play. There are certain decisions you need to make both with and without the puck and that’s what I’m going to do with this group.”

Now, I can tell you TK isn’t the only guy Vigneault is frustrated with at 5-on-5. Kevin Hayes and Nolan Patrick are also in line. The problem is the Flyers are a little bit light on depth at center with Coots and Morgan Frost on the shelf at the moment, so those guys can’t really come out of the lineup right now.

But, I can also tell you that the frustration level for the coach is higher than it should be with a 6-2-1 hockey team. Why else would he make TK take the pre-game warm-ups even though he had already announced publicly that he was going to be a healthy scratch?

Should be interesting to see how TK responds tonight.

Sam Morin Plays First Game as a Forward

It was an interesting night for Morin. He got the call to play as TK’s replacement, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that it was after getting pushed around by the Islanders in the playoffs (and to a lesser extent, the Canadiens), that AV complained that the Flyers lacked a certain toughness that he had the idea to suggest a position switch from defense to forward for Morin.

The thought process being, that when the Flyers play bigger, more physical teams, having Morin out there could act as a deterrent to a team feeling like it can have its way with the Flyers physically.

I asked AV about this pregame and here was his response:

“My hope was that we could have Sam get into a game in the American League. He was scheduled to play yesterday, but that game was cancelled because of COVID-19… The Islanders are, as everyone knows, a bigger, more physical team, so if you are going to try Sam at that position, then this would be one of those games where you could use a guy who is hard on the forecheck and is physical.

“Unfortunately because of COVID-19 we didn’t have the luxury of having exhibition games, so we have to throw him in a regular season game. He’s worked real hard and is deserving of this opportunity and hopefully he’ll do well for us tonight.”

I don’t know how the Flyers will measure Morin’s performance. He only took nine shifts total, playing just 5:31. In that time he had a shot on goal, three hits and a blocked shot, which was decent.

He also tried to engage Matt Martin in a fight, planned out pre-game, but it didn’t happen. The Flyers haven’t had a fight through their first nine games this season.

The fact that he didn’t continue to pursue any shenanigans once the Flyers had a two-goal lead shows Morin has some good hockey sense.

However, on the Islanders tying goal, it did seem like he forgot what position he was playing for a hot second, which could have contributed to the breakdown that resulted in that goal.

Yeah… that’s not where a Left Wing is supposed to be.

With TK coming back in the lineup, it’s hard to see another winger going out tomorrow that’s not Morin, but I understand the desire to have the big guy there against the Islanders if you need him.

But do they need him? Nine shifts and 5:31 of ice time tells me no.

For more Flyers coverage, follow Snow The Goalie on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Also be sure to tune into The Press Row Show as Anthony SanFilippo and Russ Joy provide pregame and intermission coverage of every Flyers home game from press row of the Wells Fargo Center via the Crossing Broad Facebook page, YouTube Live, and Twitter, and their Twitter accounts   

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