At this point in the season, there are two ways to look at each Flyers result. If you are like the players clinging to any little hope left in a playoff race, the result of the game is all that matters. If you have come to terms with the Flyers shortcomings this season and are already focusing on next season, the only thing within the game that matters is pulling a few positives that make the team competitive.
If you are the latter, this was a really good game from the Flyers. There were two very notable areas that stepped up and helped get the game to overtime and put them in a position to win. But if you were strictly looking for two points and a chance to stay in the playoff race even just for a little longer, it was another night where even a solid effort came up short.
Here are five takeaways from Thursday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Islanders.
1. Major on Morin
The real main focus after this game is something we’ll get to in a moment, because the only reason it had a chance to step up in a big way is because of this play.
That is the hit that got Sam Morin kicked out of the game just under eight minutes into the game.
The boarding penalty is completed warranted. Morin does shove Casey Cizikas from behind and it can be a reckless play. But the result producing such a penalty shows that the league has no consistency in its officiating. The league explained it as a hit that resulted in an injury to the head or face. Cizikas was back in the game before the five-minute power play was over.
Want proof that there's no consistency? Look at this hit from Jean-Gabriel Pageau on Travis Sanheim late in the third period. There was no penalty called on this play.
Sanheim gets boarded. No call. pic.twitter.com/qlGgQADkE3— Ryan Gilbert (@RGilbertSOP) April 9, 2021
In a first period that was already going south quickly, the Flyers were then thrown into the position to kill off a five-minute major where the game could have completely gotten out of hand. That brings us to...
2. Penalty Kill Shines
It was already a 2-0 game for the Islanders when the Flyers went to the penalty kill for five minutes, still less than eight minutes into the first. If you thought this would be the start of an ugly evening, you weren’t alone.
This five-minute kill may have been the Flyers best all season. Not only did the Flyers do a lot of good things during this penalty kill by taking away the cross-ice passes and forcing the Islanders to keep to the outside for most of it, they even generated a few opportunities while shorthanded.
Of course, while killing off a five-minute major looks great for the Flyers, on paper, it was still just one successful kill. But the Flyers did have more success in this area later in the game, first killing off the majority of a late second-period penalty to Robert Hagg before drawing a penalty to get their first power play, and then again in overtime for the final 1:58.
Another goal at any point could have been the game. It’s likely a different story if the Flyers allow a goal during the major. It would have been game over if they get scored on in overtime. Instead, the PK did its job and played with the style we were used to seeing last season.
3. Puck Luck
Killing off a five-minute power play can bring momentum. The Flyers had that for the remainder of the first period.
Part of that swing came when Nicolas Aube-Kubel put a shot toward the net that got a friendly bounce. It hit off the knob of the stick of Ilya Sorokin and went into the net, getting the Flyers on the board.
Aube-Kubel has been far from the player he was last season for this team. The Flyers have also definitely not been getting bounces like that of late. You create a lot of those bounces with the way you are playing, and after having three scoring chances on a five-minute penalty kill, the Flyers were starting to generate.
It was ultimately rewarded with the strange goal by Aube-Kubel, which turned a first 10 minutes of disaster into a 20 minutes where it was actually still a game.
4. Another Strong Second
For the second straight game, the Flyers had a second period that bordered on dominant. The Islanders weren’t generating zone time and the Flyers were doing what they had done to teams last season and at times earlier this season, completely suppressing everything that came their way and turning it into opportunities.
It got the game tied right away, just like on Tuesday, as Claude Giroux set up Jake Voracek for a goal.
If there’s been anything refreshing about the last two games, it’s watching the Flyers get a goal early in these periods and not play as if they are worried about giving it right back. They are right back on the attack on the next shift looking for more. Unlike Tuesday, this didn’t equate to another goal, but they certainly delivered with a period that showed they can hang with the top teams.
It shows what all of the problems have been all season. Last month, the team could not get out of its own way. They would turn the puck over, and they still are on occasion, just with less frequency. They would let one goal snowball into more. They weren’t getting timely saves. Perhaps just a couple of games that were played like this one could have turned things around last month. Hindsight is what it is and the Flyers are where they are with 17 games to go.
5. Progress in Net
Another one of the positives from this game is that you continue to see Carter Hart look more like the goalie he’s expected to be. He’s making the key saves. His positioning and tracking look better. He looks bigger in net and more confident.
These are all good things when it comes to the netminder getting his legs back from under him. As I referred to on GameNight on 97.3 ESPN prior to Thursday’s game, what people should be more focused on with Hart for the remainder of the season is his individual performance, not the game result. If Hart does his part and keeps the Flyers competitive in games, it should boost confidence in his abilities moving forward.
Of course, it’s hard to tell that to Alain Vigneault, who’s an old-school coach who came aboard the Flyers a season ago with the goal of a Stanley Cup in mind. He doesn’t want to hear about the trade deadline or missing the playoffs until it’s mathematically so. And he shouldn’t. It’s his job to focus on wins and losses and how to be one of the teams in the playoffs on a run.
But you could also sense his frustration after the game, especially in his short remarks. The Flyers are playing better hockey in these four games in April than they had the entire month of March – a month Vigneault had no interest in talking about, by the way. And yet, they have only one overtime win in Boston to show for it. The one thing that they can say about the losses is that each has been competitive – two to the Islanders in a shootout and one in regulation to Boston that was tied in the third.
The Flyers could have easily made up four points in the standings by playing the way they are now in March, whether it was finding a way to win two games or getting some of those later comebacks that fell short to overtime by stopping the bleeding sooner. Bottom line is that nothing can change that now.
Hart made 21 saves in the game on Thursday, then stopped three of the first four Islanders attempts in the shootout, one missing the net high, before getting scored on in the fifth. The same thing happened in the fourth round on Saturday. It’s not like Hart should shoulder the blame for the result in a shootout when the Flyers had chances to win it both times.
But that’s often what happens in shootout losses. The goalie becomes the central point. So for all the positives of his game that should be truly focused on, it’s the loss that stands out the most. Because deep down, while many of us have already come to terms with where the Flyers season is going, this team still believes they can make up six points and make the playoffs in the last 17 games. More power to them for believing, but it might be time to accept the moral victories that can help you build a better season next season.