Islanders 2, Flyers 3
Scott Laughton celebrates after scoring his first regular season OT goal (but if you count the playoffs, his second ever OT goal, both against the Islanders) on Saturday night. (Elsa/Getty Images)

There are only so many ways you can write the same thing. The Philadelphia Flyers WIN, again, 3-2 in OT over the New York Islanders. Yes, the Philadelphia Flyers were dramatically outplayed, again. For the eighth time this year, the Flyers were outshot at 5-on-5. For the seventh time, they were out-chanced at 5-on-5. And yet they found a way to win their sixth game of the year, slaying their playoff demons from the bubble in the process.

The only major deviation from this game compared to the rest of the season was an outstanding first period. Philadelphia came out guns blazing in the first period, and unlike on Thursday, their best players were playing like their best players. Nearly identical high-skill passing plays executed to perfection set up Jake Voracek (from Claude Giroux) and Kevin Hayes (from James van Riemsdyk) for a pair of early tallies. Some pressure by the Islanders in the final minutes kept the Flyers from having outstanding underlying numbers, but Philly was undeniably good in the first 20 minutes.

And then the bottom dropped out, just like it has in almost every game this season. The final two periods played out almost exactly the same as their second round series four months ago. Barry Trotz’s system forced the Flyers to play outside their comfort zone, and the Flyers just couldn’t adapt enough to outplay the Islanders in a game, let alone win the series. Saturday night delivered some more of the same. New York’s forecheck ate the Flyers defense alive. Despite the much welcomed return of Phil Myers, the Islanders still won far too many battles and retrieved countless dump-ins, allowing them to take control.

Control turned out to be enough for two quick goals that tied the game. New York’s defense, an average or so group on paper that’s always played better than the sum of their parts under Trotz, led the charge. First, it was Adam Pelech going for a merry-go-ride around the Flyers end, starting at the left point and finishing behind the net. Miscommunication between Travis Sanheim and Phil Myers freed up Jordan Eberle in the slot, and his one-timer cut the Flyers lead in half.

Though the Flyers delivered a nice bounce-back shift immediately after the goal, the Islanders kept pressuring. A hemmed in Flyers group, all over a minute into their shifts, could only watch as Scott Mayfield fired a fairly similar goal to his Game 7 winner in the bubble, knotting the game at two. The Islanders came dangerously close to taking the lead in the rest of the period, especially because Anders Lee decided it’s ok to crash into the opposing goalie if you’re diving at a loose puck.

Somehow, the Flyers kept New York at bay before getting to intermission. They then spent the third period doing most of the same. An aggressive penalty kill and a steady showing from Carter Hart were the only thorns in the Islanders’ side, but somehow they proved too much to overcome. The Islanders continued to control play at 5-on-5, outshooting the Flyers 11-4. Once again, they made their best push late, with Hart robbing Leo Komarov on a 2-on-1 set up beautifully by Jordan Eberle, burning the tough to beat Ivan Provorov in the process.

For what it’s worth, one area the Flyers have looked great in this year is overtime. If they played like they have in 3-on-3 at 5-on-5, there’d be almost nothing to complain about. In two OT periods this season, Philadelphia has taken nine shot attempts while allowing only six. They’ve generated .46 expected goals while allowing only .25.

Of course, it would take one actual goal to win the game. In order to secure a second point, the Flyers used someone the Islanders hardly saw in the bubble and someone they remember all too well. Ghost started the sequence with an outstanding steal from Brock Nelson at the Flyers line and a perfect outlet pass. On the receiving end of it was Scott Laughton, who scored a couple of massive goals against the Isles in last year’s playoffs. Though the stakes are lower right now, that didn’t stop Scotty Laughts from cutting around the entire New York defense and out-waiting Semyon Varlamov, tucking home the game-winner short-side.

Give the Flyers credit for hanging tough and finding another way to win a game they didn’t deserve to. As I said earlier in the year, being able to win when not playing your best is an important skill. Of course, being able to actually play a good 60-minute game is even more important, but the Flyers have yet to find that formula. Alain Vigneault hasn’t been afraid to criticize the team’s 5-on-5 play this season, but he did say he felt the team “took a step” Saturday night. But is that really good enough? Is AV ever going to do something massive to wake this team up?

Diskonnection

Oh yeah, that.

The biggest storyline of the game had nothing to do with the game itself. For the first time since his rookie season in 2016-17, Travis Konecny was healthy scratched. Yes, the same Travis Konecny with a tied for team leading five goals. The same one who team last year with 24 tallies. Benched in favor of Sam Morin, who made his NHL debut at forward Saturday night.

Morin definitely breaks toughness to the table, and that’s something the Flyers felt lacking in made a difference in the bubble. But the spotlight is heavily on Konecny here. Teams very rarely bench a player of TK’s caliber, especially when one of their biggest weaknesses is generating offense; only Dallas is averaging fewer shots on goal per game than Philly’s 23. So why did AV make this call, and more importantly, was it a good one to make?

While Travis Konecny is usualyl an offensive force, his game has been lacking lately. Konecny had just one assist and one shot on goal in his last three games. And while he’s never been a great defensive player, Konecny’s 200-foot game is better than what he’s shown this season. Konecny was one of the players caught up the ice on that inexcusable 4-on-1 rush the Devils had Thursday, which perhaps could’ve been the last straw to Vigneault.

Despite a hot start buoyed by a game two hat trick against Pittsburgh, Konecny hasn’t been playing his best hockey. The Flyers are getting crushed with TK on the ice, generating an ugly 44.09% shot attempts 45.07% of the expected goals at 5-on-5. For reference, Konecny was a stellar 54.77% and 54.58%, respectively, in those metrics last season. Yes, he doesn’t have the luxury of playing with Dr. Coots right now. But after being an outstanding play-driver last year, Konecny has been driven over this season more often than not.

So yes, Konecny isn’t playing amazing right now, to put it mildly. But then again, neither are the Flyers. Konecny is actually positive relative to his teammates in the shot battle (+1.23%) and in expected goals (+1.14%). You obviously can’t bench everybody, but it feels to me like this is a situation where Konecny sort of fell on the sword for the team. If AV wanted to scratch someone to send a message, who else could he have picked?

The Flyers lack of center depth locks Hayes and Patrick into the line-up right now. AV seemed pleased with the Lindblom-Laughton-Farabee line on Thursday (though I didn’t think they played exceptionally). Giroux has been basically the only positive player by advanced stats all season. Voracek had a five-game point streak heading into Saturday (which he successfully intended). The fourth line is playing great. That leaves Konecny and James van Riemsdyk, a frequent scratched in last year’s playoffs. Perhaps Vigneault though scratching him again wouldn’t send a big enough (or the right) message. So Konecny it is.

Ok, so we at least have an idea of why Vigneault benched Konecny. Should he have? Only time will tell, but I’m a little skeptical of the decision. Last year, when players like van Riemsdyk and Voracek struggled early in the year, they weren’t scratched. Instead, AV dropped them in the lineup and forced them to work their way back up, which worked well with Voracek and (to a lesser extent) van Riemsdyk. Moving Konecny from the top-six to the press box is a pretty big drop; perhaps a game or two in the bottom-six, giving Konecny a chance to redeem himself, would’ve been better.

Sitting Konecny undeniably sends a message to the Flyers that their play is unacceptable and they need to pick it up, an assertion I certainly agree with. Vigneault confirmed Konecny will re-enter the line-up Sunday, but it will be interesting to see if this is truly a one-off or if TK or another big name finds themself sitting if things don’t improve. I’m also concerned about how this decision affects Konecny’s relationship with Vigneault, which didn’t exactly get off to the best start last year. AV did give TK credit, calling him one of their “three best forwards” before delving into the reasons for the benching. But we’ve recently seen how quickly disgruntled player situations can escalate. Hopefully, Konecny’s situation never comes to that.

Take a look at some of the developing storylines from the rapidly progressing NHL season.

Lindies

Sam Morin has compared his ideal play-style to Matt Martin’s ever since it was announced he’d move to forward. Martin seems pretty impressed and respectful of the praise. The two made their first head-to-head battle tonight (in Martin’s 700th NHL game, nonetheless). Martin was expectedly the better of the two, but Morin’s team got the last laugh.

This may be Morin’s first battle against Martin as a forward, but he’s plenty used to playing against the Islanders. Morin has played just ten NHL games across the last five seasons. Yet somehow four of them have been against the Islanders.

The fourth line continues to play well, and they’re receiving more and more minutes as a result. Connor Bunnaman obliterated his career-high time-on-ice, playing 16:32 tonight (previous high was 13:11). Playing 2:08 on the penalty kill (4th most among PHI forwards) helped Bunny reach that milestone. And Nicolas Aube-Kubel played the third most minutes of his career (14:46).

After a really rough start to the year, the Flyers PK seems to have turned a corner. Philly’s penalty kill was a putrid 14/22 (63.6%) in their first six games; since then, they’re a perfect 9-for-9. In fact, they looked outright dangerous at times Saturday, possessing the puck a lot and coming within an inch of an odd-man rush a couple of times.

Tonight was the Flyers first win against the Islanders in Philly since January 4, 2018, snapping a four-game skid.

Not only did Shayne Gostisbehere make a great play to set up Laughton’s winner, but he recorded his 200th NHL point in doing so. Only five other Flyers defensemen have reached that mark.

We’re all expecting playoff races to come down to the wire this year, and nights like tonight show why. All eight East Division teams were in action Saturday night, and all eight picked up at least one point. Three point games like the one the Flyers played in tonight matter more than ever; winning is always great, but winning in sixty minutes is optimal.

3 Stars

3rd: Mat Barzal – Assist (5), 4 Shots, 56% Face-Offs, 22:30 TOI (1st for NYI Fs)

2nd: Scott Mayfield – Goal (1), 3 Shots

1st: Scott Laughton – Goal (1), Assist (4), 2 Shots, 3 Hits

Next

1/31, 7 PM – NYI vs. PHI

Follow Us on Twitter!

Advanced Stats via Natural Stat Trick