By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor
There’s just something about the Flyers facing the Islanders and the game reaching overtime.
These two teams are putting together quite the recent history of late, with last season’s playoff series having taken place in late August and early September, and now two more chapters complete this weekend to close out January.
In the nine games the two have played since then, five have gone to overtime. All five have been won by the Flyers. On Sunday night, they did it again thanks to a power-play goal with 38 seconds left by Kevin Hayes, securing a fourth straight win and a four-point weekend against the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last season.
Here are five takeaways from Sunday’s 4-3 overtime win against the Islanders.
1. Hayes Plays Hero
In the course of regulation, Kevin Hayes got a shorthanded breakaway that hit the crossbar and a power-play chance that hit the post. When Claude Giroux set him up with a drop pass in overtime, he didn’t miss.
Hayes played hero in Sunday’s game with his fifth goal of the season, firing high to the blocker side of Ilya Sorokin.
Once again, it was an example of how the Flyers just get up to the task in overtime. With the game on the line and an opportunity to avoid the shootout in front of them, they took care of business again. It came from a player who had his share of opportunities all night and couldn’t seem to cash in.
2. Three for Farabee
Joel Farabee made quite a statement on opening night with a four-point game. Then for the next few games, he didn’t contribute at all offensively and was held at bay.
Then came Tuesday’s game in New Jersey, when Farabee struck for his second goal of the season. After two more games off the scoresheet, Farabee had the best scoring game of his young career. He scored the lone goal of the first period with 1:18 to play, then added his second to give the Flyers the lead back early in the second. He completed the hat trick with a deflection off his shin pad later in the period.
Farabee becomes the second-youngest player in Flyers history to record a hat trick, and just the third to do so before turning 21. The others: Mike Richards, just three days before his 21st birthday, and Eric Lindros, who did so four times before turning 21. Farabee will turn 21 on Feb. 25.
As is to be expected from a young player, not every game has been perfect for Farabee, but this is another sign of his potential. He had an outstanding game in the opener. Now, in the 10th game of the season, he had another multi-point showing and continues to take steps to being a key contributor to this team in the future.
3. A Reliable Backup
It may seem like a broken record, but without great goaltending, the Flyers do not win this game. In the opening period, Brian Elliott faced 13 shots and stopped all of them. Even when the Islanders got on the board in the second on a power play, he made eight more saves to keep the Islanders at bay while the Flyers took a two-goal lead.
He did allow two goals in the third, though there was nothing he could do about either, then locked things down again. Notably, there was his pair of saves while the Flyers were shorthanded in overtime, struggling to get out of their own zone. The game could have ended right there. But Elliott has been so sure-handed. He’s been such a calming presence in net and a reliable backup to Carter Hart, that even in his starts, he’s giving the team the chance to win.
The one common theme to each of Elliott’s starts this season is how sharp he has looked early. He has been tracking the puck well, he looks healthy, his movement is good. He’s done everything the Flyers have needed him to in the three starts he has made.
It is something that sets the Flyers up well for success. They don’t just have Carter Hart that they can lean on to be sharp and solid in goal. They can take the ice in the games Elliott starts and expect the same thing. The Islanders definitely threw their share of quality chances at Elliott in this game. Credit him with another quality start that helped the Flyers get a win.
4. JVR the Playmaker
When James van Riemsdyk had a two-goal game in New Jersey earlier this week to score his fourth and fifth goals of the season, it wasn’t all that surprising. We’ve seen van Riemsdyk have this kind of scoring surge before and there are times when he can’t buy a goal as a result. A majority of goal scorers go through this streaky performance.
But van Riemsdyk is doing much more than just parking it in front of the net and getting deflections for goals. He’s making plays that are helping to set up his teammates.
It took a little while after the game for this to happen, but van Riemsdyk had assists on all three of Farabee’s goals, then was later credited with an assist on Hayes’ game-winner as well. That’s a four-assist night, and now eight assists on the season.
This is the best offensive start for van Riemsdyk through 10 games since his rookie season in 2008-09, when he scored two goals and had 11 assists for 13 points then. Entering the season, it seemed like JVR was a forgotten part of this group, rather than a veteran player who could contribute. His contract has a lot to do with that perception, but his production from last season was down and a lot of it had to do with being unlucky and snakebitten. He’s getting a lot to work for him, and that’s a good thing for the Flyers.
5. Off to a Hot Start
A hot start can be defined in many ways. And it’s fair if you have watched the Flyers this season and don’t think they are off to a great start. There is a lot to be desired from this team to this point, and after 10 games, the lack of a preseason and injuries and trying to find a rhythm isn’t much of an excuse anymore.
That said, a hot start can also be defined by results. Just look at the last few years and the Flyers record through 10 games.
In the last 10 seasons, the Flyers have not won more than five games in the first 10 and did not have more than 11 points in the standings. Slow starts have really been a consistent quality of this franchise, especially by the record more than the play.
Following this overtime win over the Islanders, the Flyers are 7-2-1. Let me say that again: the Flyers are 7-2-1. They have 15 points in the standings. They are one of two teams on Feb. 1 with seven wins, joining the Toronto Maple Leafs. They are one of three teams with 15 points, tied for most in the NHL. They are tied for the East Division lead with Washington.
The 7-2-1 record and 15 points is also the most the Flyers have had through 10 games of the season since 2002-03 when they were 7-1-2 with 16 points in that time.
The other important part of this “hot start” is that the Flyers are not just finding a way to win their games, but they are putting some distance on other teams within the division by beating them. That’s a byproduct of the realigned divisions and unique schedule this season. Every game could help you make up some ground in the playoff race.
Just look at the last three series the Flyers have played. After beating Pittsburgh twice and then splitting with Buffalo, the Flyers lost both games in Boston, dropping the first in a shootout and the second in a rout. That’s how quickly a team can grab four points in the standings and hold you to one or none.
So the Flyers have responded to that weekend by defeating the Devils twice in regulation, thus gaining four points on them, and scoring two overtime wins over the Islanders, thus claiming two points from them. Because of this, the Flyers have a five-point advantage on teams like New Jersey and Buffalo and they have a seven-point advantage on the Islanders.
Even if their play is leaving a lot to be desired, these are points that those teams can’t get back. These are points that go a long way as the season goes on. The Flyers may not be playing up to the standings everyone, including themselves, expect, but they are finding a way to win and taking care of business in the right way by getting off to a hot start.