Examination of the Flyers – Islanders Series

How Did The Flyers Fall to the Islanders

The Flyers were able to take the Islanders to seven games in a closely contested series.  Though the Flyers were able to win three games, all in overtime, the Islanders controlled play and seemed unlucky to have lost any of the three games.  There were several areas that really undermined the Flyers’ efforts in the series.

Toothless powerplay:  The Flyers did not score on the power play, not once, during the entire series.  In a seven game series, this borders on the statistically absurd.  A few power play goals could have easily tilted the games in the Flyers favor, but there were definitive deeper impact to the play on the ice.

Unafraid of being short-handed, the Islander forwards were constantly interfering with Flyers player.  The Islander interference got more brazen after each disastrous Flyers’  power play attempt.  They would hold players on dump ins, divert player’s charging in on the forecheck. They would also contact Flyers forwards leaving their zone in transition, a shining example of this was Barzal’s hit that injured Couturier.

Long Shifts and Sloppy Line Changes

After Game Two it became evident that the Islanders were taking a very strategic approach to beating the Flyers that had nothing to do with Xs and Os or zone coverage.  The Islanders went out their way to wear down the Flyers.  A dogged and relentless Islanders’ forecheck caused turnovers and extending their possession of the puck.  The Flyers haplessly pursued the puck, expending their energy, while the Islanders would send out fresh bodies.  The Clutterbuck line did this consistently, leaving the Flyers exhausted and letting fresh team mates finish the effort with a goal.

The Flyers also seemed to struggle getting their players changed out in a coordinated fashion as they picked up several penalties for too many men.  I have not been able to discern precisely why, but my guess is there was an Islanders’ stratagem at work here as well.

Patience and Poise Lose to Determination and Discipline

The personality of this Flyers team is much different than that of their general history.  This year’s edition is more boy scout than bad boy, more pacifist than pugilist.  It is a team that took a slow and methodical approach up ice, replacing the dump and destroy like your hair is on fire traditions of the past. This design and disposition yielded great success but also created some gaps.  Most noticeable were the lack of a true physical checking line and a true energy line.

The Islanders were a different story.  While they may not possess the end to end talent of the Flyers they have a versatile hard working team.  The top line of Barzal-Lee-Eberle has plenty of talent.  Mathew Barzal reminds of me Sidney Crosby, but without the rat like face and field of general annoyance Crosby generates by his mere existence.  Lee, and I mean this the most complimentary way, is just a really, really good hockey player.  With Eberle they represented a threat that you could only hope to contain.

The Islanders’ fourth line may never combine to score 50 goalsin a season, they may always have a negative relative corsi, but Clutterbuck-Martin-Cizikas is vital to the Islanders.  Their hard work, dogged forechecking and willingness to hit is just as big a part of the Islanders identity as Barzal’s puck magic.  The Flyers’ long shifts and sloppy changes were driven largely by this line.

The Difference

The Flyers hoped that their talent, and Carter Hart would carry them past the Islanders. In the end it was not enough. The Islanders hard working players consistently won puck battles against the Flyers.  Vigneault and his coaching staff was unable to adjust to the Islander tactics, and with three failed goal challenges this actually created addition hurdles for their players to overcome.   Last, Konecny and Giroux were largely kept off the score sheet with Konecny not recording a single goal in the playoffs.

The Islanders were able to use the strength of their forecheck to get the Flyers out rhythm.  They used puck possession to extend. Islander players would pass over taking shots to hold the puck longer in the Flyers end.

In the end, the Islanders were the smarter, more discipline team.  They had a better game plan, not one that just dealt with the on-ice positioning, lines match ups and zone coverage, but one that heavily factored ice time management and shift times.  They smartly tried to turn each shift into a war of attrition for the Flyers players.   This is a dimension,  one that the Flyers’ coaching staff either discounted or did not recognize or could not mitigate, was the key to the series and the reason for the Islanders’ triumph.