Tricks of the Trade: Thoughts on Flyers 4, Islanders 3 (OT… again)

Photo Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

At some point, we’re going to probably have to admit something about this Philadelphia Flyers team.

That they’re better than we give them credit for.

Sure, we have an elevated standard for them these days. A much higher bar was set when they hired Alain Vigneault. No longer would we expect the mediocrity (or worse) of the Dave Hakstol era. No. This team has greater aspirations and we need to hold them accountable if they aren’t playing at that level.

And so far, through the first 10 games of this abbreviated season, they haven’t quite lived up to that standard when you break down the game under a microscope.

Getting outshot by nearly 10 shots a game isn’t good. A constant rotation of defensemen in and out of the lineup to try and find something that works is also not ideal. Being hemmed into your own zone constantly, not generating any chances when you do have the puck, and having more of a pass-first than a shoot-first mentality is not going to win you many games.

And yet here we are, after another overtime win against the Islanders – a 4-3 victory sealed by a Kevin Hayes goal marking the fifth time that’s happened in the last eight meetings between the clubs – and the Flyers are 7-2-1 in their first 10 games.

Know how often that’s happened in the storied history of the Flyers franchise?

This is the ninth-best start to a season in team history through 10 games. And the eight times it was better was only by one or two points.

It’s also the first time the Flyers have gotten off to this good of a start since 2002.

Now, some will say this Flyers team has been lucky so far, and it’s hard to argue that in some instances. Saturday night’s win over the Islanders certainly falls into that category.

But bad teams don’t get lucky.

Maybe here and there good fortune shines on a dog’s behind, but overall, it doesn’t happen that frequently.

Good teams however, well, that’s another story.

Think about how many times you’ve watched good teams in sports – especially ones you hate – get a lucky bounce, or a lucky break, or a referee makes a bad call or doesn’t make a call they should have that helps that team win.

It’s infuriating, right?

It’s like all those years of the New England Patriots, or when you would scream at your television that Sidney Crosby gets away with whatever he wants.

But when you’re a good team – and even if you grit your teeth before you say it, the Patriots and Penguins have been good teams – those breaks go your way more often than not.

Good luck sometimes comes out of nowhere and as a fan of your team, you just thank the universe for it (double doink anyone)?

But sometimes good teams create their own good luck by the way they are playing, and Sunday that was the case for the Flyers.

Just 24 hours after looking seemingly overmatched against the Islanders despite beating them on Scott Laughton’s overtime game-winner, the Flyers looked much better against New York, especially at 5-on-5.

Their Corsi For percentage swung from a woeful 41.3 against New York on Saturday to a nearly dominating 56.3 on Sunday when the teams were at 5-on-5.

The penalty kill, which was much maligned early this season, did give up a goal, albeit a lucky bounce that hit the post and then bounced off of the back of Brian Elliott’s skate and into the net. But that goal stopped a string of 11 consecutive kills by the Flyers and all told they did kill four other man advantages for New York in the game.

The amount of penalties has to be slightly concerning – especially for a Flyers team that is among the least penalized teams in the NHL – but special teams have been good lately.

Heck, the game-winner in overtime came on the power play after Laughton took a high stick to the face during the exciting 3-on-3 action, the Flyers improvised a little on their goal, and it was a sick pass from Claude Giroux to Hayes that resulted in the game-winner:

This seems like the perfect transition to something I want to talk about – the Flyers and overtime.

Flyers OT strategy wears you out

Since Vigneault arrived, with his veteran assistants who have head coaching experience, the Flyers have created a very sound strategy in games that get past regulation.

When I asked Travis Konecny about that strategy he sort of outlined a bit of what the Flyers game plan is in the extra session.

“I think as far as 3-on-3, kind of plays into how we play 5-on-5. We play fast, we try to play direct and take pucks to the net. There’s a lot of depth on our team, too, so it really doesn’t matter who you put out there. We’re just going to keep attacking and try to hem guys in. It’s not just go out there and play 3-on-3. There’s somewhat of a structure to it and you try to get guys tired and you come at them that hard and they end up taking a penalty that wins us the game.”

That last sentence is the key. They try to get into a situation where they catch the other team with tired guys on the ice and go at them hard. It worked Sunday in the sense that a tired player, in this case Islanders star Matthew Barzal, lost control of his stick and got it up high on Laughton resulting in a penalty that led to the game-winning goal, which almost didn’t happen because Hayes wasn’t expecting the puck to come his way:

“I think G might have the most power play assists the last couple of years. There’s a reason why he’s an elite power play guy. It was kind of a broken play off of a shot. I honestly wasn’t expecting it. It was on his backhand, I thought he was going to shoot, but he made a great pass and luckily it went in.”

But this is something that has developed – and developed nicely – since Vigneault’s arrival. Not counting shootouts, and including playoffs, the Flyers are 10-2 in games decided in overtime under Vigneault.

If you just look at the regular season, there have been 20 games that went past regulation since Vigneault took over. Eleven have gone to a shootout and nine were settled in 3-on-3 overtime.

But a closer look will show you that since Nov. 30, 2019, the games are ending in OT far more regularly than getting to the shootout.

In his first two months as coach, the Flyers only had one game end in OT and eight went to a shootout. But since that magical date listed above, which is arbitrarily around the time when Vigneault has said he felt his entire system was finally in place with his new team, the Flyers have had eight games end in OT and only three have reached a shootout.

So it’s obvious they are playing to end the game in the OT period, where they feel they have an advantage with the way they play, versus going to a shootout, where the Flyers are notoriously below average.

Since that Nov. 30 date, the Flyers are 6-2 in games ending in OT. Only losses in Carolina and Pittsburgh last January blemish the Flyers success in the extra frame.

And Hayes is a key part of the success. He has scored three of the seven OT winners under Vigneault. (The others were Sean Couturier, Ivan Provorov, Jake Voracek and Laughton).

Even go back to their one shoot out this season – a loss in Boston. Tuukka Rask had to make three unbelievable saves in OT to force the shootout, which the Bruins eventually won. That was another OT where the Flyers were really, really good.

So, going forward, if a game makes it past regulation, keep an eye on the way the Flyers play in OT, it’s definitely something fun to watch.

Young Beezer

Most of the time you lead a story with the Star of the Game. And there’s no doubt that Joel Farabee deserved the first star against the Islanders Sunday. It’s just that sometimes, when you really think about a game, something else might stick out and bump the first star down to second banana in the coverage.

So, apologies to Beezer, especially since he became the second-youngest Flyer, and only the third under the age of 21, to record a hat trick.

Only Eric Lindros was younger (he did it four times).

Farabee had his second big game of the season thus far. He had a four-point game on opening night and now adds the hat trick to his collection.

And all three goals were a little bit different. Let’s take a look at them:

Farabee never stops skating. That’s the first thing you have to like about this. He works to get into his positions. He also has the sense to not chase the puck into the corner because he sees Laughton is going to get to it, so instead he sets up below the goal line for a second to see how the play develops then immediately skates to open ice in the circle which is a high percentage scoring area.

James van Riemsdyk slides him the puck with a nice touch pass and Farabee, who is really a deceptive shooter, surprises the goalie with a turnaround shot that was ticketed for the top shelf.

The Flyers seemed to have a little bit of a book on Islanders backup goalie Ilya Sorokin. Three of the four goals they scored were targeting the top corners of the goal.

It was a goal scorer’s shot by Farabee. And he had more to come:

This is just your classic give-and go between Farabee and van Riemsdyk, but the thing that impresses me here is Farabee’s confidence. He wants to shoot. He gets himself into shooting position the instant he passes the puck to JVR. He wants that one-timer badly, and JVR obliges with the pass into the circle.

To be fair, the Islanders defensive coverage on this goal was pretty woeful. To leave a guy that wide open in the circle with his stick cocked in position is not going to sit well with their coach, Barry Trotz. But Farabee saw an opening and took advantage of it. Great read by Beezer.

The third goal was a bit different:

How many times have you heard players and coaches talking about getting to the net, and good things will happen.

Both Farabee and Laughton go to the net here and Phil Myers’ shot happens to be to Farabee’s side. The shot hit off of Farabee’s pants and went in to finish the hat trick.

It was Farabee’s best game as a Flyer, and definitely one for him to continue to build confidence and success moving forward.

Team MVP through 10 games – JVR

Lost in the shuffle of the craziness of Farabee’s hat trick and another overtime win against the Islanders was the fact that JVR had four assists.

It’s only his second four-point game of his career, and the first four assist game of his career.

Through 10 games van Riemsdyk leads the Flyers in scoring. He has five goals and eight assists for 13 points, which matches the best 10-game start of a season in his career. He actually had 13 points through 10 games as a rookie for the Flyers in 2009-10 with two goals and 11 assists.

Everyone thinks of JVR as a goal scorer, which he is, but he is an underrated passer and his skills on that front have been shining through in recent games.

Four-assist games don’t happen that often. The last one for the Flyers was by Voracek last February, but there have only been 15 total by a Flyer this century.

JVR has had success this season no matter where he’s been in the lineup. He’s received public praise from AV about his play on more than one occasion.

He has picked up the slack necessary on offense with Sean Couturier out of the lineup for so long and he has been pretty solid in his own end.

If you have a guy making $7 million a year, this is the kind of production you hope for, and JVR is providing it and doing so in spades. He’s a huge part of why this team is 7-2-1 so far.

Moose tracks

Brian Elliott has been really, really good for the Flyers this season, and Sunday was no different.

In three starts this season, Elliott is 3-0 with a 2.22 goals against average and a .932 save percentage. He finished the game Sunday with 33 saves, but where he made the biggest difference was when his team needed him most.

In the first period, the Islanders were outskating the Flyers a bit – reminiscent of Saturday’s second two periods.

But Elliott stood tall and stopped all 13 of the Islanders shots. He was sharp, he was quick, and he had a couple of old school style saves.

Then, late in the game, Elliott saved the bacon of a couple defenseman who turned the puck over with a flashy glove save, and a sprawling save to his right to cover up a loose puck that could have ended up in the back of the net.

He even had four saves in the overtime period, which was pretty wide open.

Looking around the league I’m having a hard time finding a better back up goalie in the NHL right now, and this city knows the importance of having a reliable backup at it’s most important position, right?

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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