Done Streakin’ – Thoughts After Flyers 3, Islanders 1

Photo Credit: John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

At varying points during the latest 10-game winless streak the Flyers either “sucked,” were “young and dumb,” didn’t have the talent, or needed to figure out who they were and who was going to be here for the long term.

That is, of course, if you listened to coach John Tortorella.

But, on Tuesday, they were none of those things. In the back half of an home-and-home set with the New York Islanders, the Flyers actually resembled a good NHL team.

It may have been just one night, or it may be the first step in a long road to redemption for this hockey team. Regardless, it was an effort that resembled everything that Tortorella has preached since taking the job as the face of the franchise in the summer.

And while a spirited 3-1 win over the Islanders at the end of November that snapped the 10-game skid hardly closes the myriad self-inflicted wounds that are open and stinging each day, and a lot of internal strife continues to mount, a glimpse at the way Tortorella’s brand looks when it’s humming on all cylinders is, in fact, a joy to watch.

The Flyers played hard. They played fast. They played strong. They played smart. And when there was a breakdown – of which there were few – Carter Hart or another teammate was there to pick up the slack and save the day.

It all started with some choreographed testosterone release.

There were two fights in the first eight seconds of the game. This was spill over from the game in New York on Saturday that had some animosity build and even bubble over near the end of the contest, but you knew it was coming when in those opening seconds, Zack MacEwen and Nic Deslauriers are on the ice for the Flyers while Matt Martin and Ross Johnston are on the ice for the Islanders.

Let’s just say, they weren’t there to try to score an early goal:

(Yes, I know it’s Charlestown, not Johnstown. There is a link between the two from the movie and for a hot second my brain mixed them up and I hit the tweet button before I could stop myself.)

Tortorella said he wants his players to play the right way and that a start like that could well be the right way.

And while that’s debatable between the old school and the new school line of thinking, both teams obliged. The problem was the Flyers proceeded to take two more penalties in the coming minutes, ended up on the wrong end of a 5-on-3 power play, and quickly trailed 1-0.

That could have easily careened the train off the track, make the fights look even sillier than the pre-meditation of them already did, and sent the Flyers to loss No. 11 in a row.

But it didn’t, because Travis Sanheim turned the game back around quickly with a shorthanded tally:

It was weird because it seemed like the one official waved off the goal, which is why there was no goal horn and there was no goal song – at least not right away. After a brief discussion, the officials said it was a clean goal. There was no review. There was no argument from the Islanders either. It was just a weird event.

“Sanheim’s goal was very important,” Tortorella said. “After a couple of fights, we get some momentum on our bench, take an offensive zone penalty. You’re just not going to kill it. To kill it, but also score to at least even the game up at that time was very important.”

From there, it was good defense. Good forechecking. Good positioning. And great structure by the Flyers, choking the life out of the Islanders like a boa constrictor. Torts was pretty effusive about the team’s play:

“That’s one of our more complete games and finish is the right word. We talked about it between the second and third in the coach’s room that we need to finish a game now and not go in the back door. We make it hard on ourselves with an undisciplined penalty towards the end, but we have a really great penalty kill there. Carter makes a couple of big saves, and we find our way. I like that we were on our toes. We didn’t go in the back door and give up 15, 16 shots in the period and go in the back door. That’s a really good stepping stone for us in understanding how to finish games.”

Kevin Hayes remained red hot, scoring two more goals (one an empty-netter) as he now has 24 points in 23 games and is off to the best offensive start in his career. Torts also wants everyone to know that despite benching Hayes for a period, demoting him to the fourth line, moving him from center to wing and saying that Noah Cates is better in the defensive zone than Hayes, that Hayes is not in the coach’s doghouse, nor has he been. More Torts:

“He’s been so strong on the puck offensively. He’s a good offensive player. We all know that. I think he has really stepped up on holding onto pucks offensively, and he’s trying away from the puck. I think he’s in a better spot playing wing where he just doesn’t get as many opportunities as far as low coverage where there’s some struggles in his game. So, we’re trying – a team that’s starving for offense – I’m trying to take the pressure off of him defensively, and not being worried about all those types of situations low and let him work on the other part of his game. I think it’s really helped him and he’s also trying away from the puck. He’s asking the questions. Each night it’s different for me. Everybody thinks Kevin’s in the doghouse. Kevin isn’t in the doghouse. Kevin needs to learn to play the right way, and I think he’s trying to do that. He gets an opportunity tonight and scores a goal for us.”

Hayes has also elevated the play of Joel Farabee, who is starting to look more and more like himself now that he’s reached the point most expected for his return from his offseason surgery. Also, Lukas Sedlak is playing his best hockey in the NHL as the center between those two. A waiver wire pickup playing 17 minutes a night and being at the center of the top power play unit is probably not how Tortorella saw this season unfolding, but the Flyers are who they are at the moment and Torts is making the best of it.

Another player who looked good was Rasmus Ristolainen, playing alongside Ivan Provorov with Tony DeAngelo out of the lineup nursing a lower-body injury.

While Ristolainen is often akin to an electric football player – position him where you want him but ten once you turn the power on you don’t ever really know if he’s going to go where you want him to go or not – he looked much more comfortable in his play alongside Provorov than probably many would have thought.

The Flyers don’t have long to celebrate this win though. Tampa comes to town Thursday, and there’s some internal questions lingering with the team.

Might there be some sort of change on the horizon? How soon could that occur?

Let’s talk separately about that one, shall we? Stay tuned.