Flyers
Carter Hart’s first game in eight days was one of his best of the year, although it wasn’t enough to pull out a victory in a shootout loss to the Islanders. (AP Photo/Corey Sipkin)

One point makes climbing the mountain that is this coming week easier, but two obviously would’ve been better. Not much in terms of creativity in that lead-in for a game that wasn’t exciting until it very was. The Philadelphia Flyers lose, 3-2, shootout style, to the New York Islanders, the eight-hundred-and-forty-eighth game that’s gone to OT between these clubs in the last calendar year. A Claude-Giroux-led-comeback propelled the Flyers to one point, but their old nemesis the shootout stymied their quest for a second.

The Flyers certainly started April looking more like the team that started March than the one that ended it for most of this game. They still left room for improvement; their passes weren’t always crisp, especially early. The only real problem was Sam Morin and James van Riemsdyk both taking stupid, away from the puck penalties in the opening twenty minutes. They paid for the first one, with Anders Lee Matt Martin making a slick feed at the side of the net to set up Anders Lee for a tap-in. Otherwise, the Flyers played very well, outshooting New York 10-3. But they missed a golden opportunity to even the game, letting a 64-second 5-on-3 power-play go by the wayside.

While the Flyers did have a fair bit of puck possession, the Islanders were the ones generating quality chances. New York had just three shots on goal in the first but managed four high-danger chances. And then the mistakes started to pile up. Carter Hart erased quite a few of them in first game action in over a week. Joel Farabee tried to knock the puck down to gain control but instead wound up keeping the puck in his own zone. Mat Barzal, as he so often does, hypnotized the Flyers defense before feeding the puck into the middle. Once again, Beauvillier was waiting, blasting a one-timer through Hart to double the lead.

It’s no secret how difficult the Islanders are to come from behind on; they entered tonight 11-0-1 when leading after two, and were 3-1 against the Flyers in the bubble when scoring first (Game 5 was the lone exception). But after killing off another undisciplined penalty, this one on Ivan Provorov, the Flyers offense struck. When your season is on the line, and the Flyers certainly is, you count on your leaders more than ever. Claude Giroux has received a ton of scrutiny over the years for issues both in and out of his control. But in the blink of an eye, he took control of this game. Giroux cut the lead in half with a slick backhander; then absolutely ripped a slot shot just a 3:56 later past Ilya Sorokin to even the score!

It wasn’t a terrible game for the Flyers; at the very least, it was a step up for Wednesday’s relapse to the basement. They took a lot of shots but struggled mightily to generate quality looks and really test Sorokin. They had chances to get good chances; the aforementioned 5-on-3 struggled to get shots through (as did the PP overall), Joel Farabee was stripped from behind on a potential short-handed breakaway. The Giroux goals were outliers, not the norm, and it’s tough to win with a heavy reliance on point shots because of the randomness/luck it takes for them to go in the net. Some of that you can make, and the Flyers did a good job of doing that in the offensive zone tonight; they just didn’t get that last push of luck in the form of a puck bouncing in off a body or through a screen.

Overtime came and went with a lot of Islanders puck possession and maybe a cross-bar for Jordan Eberle, but otherwise not too much. Each of the first six-shooters in the shootout was denied before Mat Barzal’s hypnosis school claimed another student in Carter Hart. Sorokin shut the did on Jake Voracek’s five-hole bid, ending the Isles’ brief two-game losing streak. The game is over; but is the season? It’s no secret I’ve felt that it is for a while. But of course, few teams are officially eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs this early; even the Sabres are technically mathematically alive, if only by a fraction of a percent.

Beating a defensive juggernaut in the Islanders is very difficult, though the Flyers came close to doing so. The good news is their next opponent, the Boston Bruins, have been less of a juggernaut than usual lately. They out-slugged the Penguins in a 7-5 win early this afternoon that puts them four points ahead of the Flyers with two games in hand. Boston dominated the first five meetings of the season; two blowout victories, two 3rd period comeback OT wins, and one 3rd period comeback regulation win.

Philadelphia and Boston will meet on Monday, Tuesday, and Sunday; another contest with the Isles mixes it up on Thursday. The Flyers could easily have gotten four more points out of the Bruins in those games while preventing the B’s from gaining six of their own. It’s far from the only “shoulda, coulda, woulda” of the Flyers 2021 season. But right now, it arguably looms the largest.

Before this game, Chuck Fletcher said the Flyers next week or so would heavily influence his actions at the April 12 trade deadline. But he really meant it would come down to these next three games. Going +3 in standings points gained (2-1-0 with 2 RWs or some combination involving either PHI or BOS getting a loser points) would be decent; without factoring in the Flyers’ Thursday game (Boston is at Washington on that day), that would cut the standings deficit to just one point. Being +4 would be better. And +5 or perfect +6 gets the Flyers back into a playoff spot for the first time in about a month.

That is unlikely, and even the +4 and +5 options are, too. A split or a small Flyers win probably isn’t good enough this late in the year. Plus-two is the bare minimum here, which is a lofty bar against a talented Bruins team. But the Flyers are a talented team, too. Boston winning the season series likely spells doom for the Flyers’ 2021 fate; it’s by more than a point or two, likely turns to definitely. Tonight’s game — solid process, one point — moves the needle towards buy, but only slightly. The Flyers will need to definitely improve the latter, maybe even the former, too, for Fletcher to consider even a small addition to boost Philly’s chances down the stretch.

It’s fitting that on the day the regular season would have ended in a normal 82-game season, the Flyers’ focus shifts to what is basically an abbreviated playoff series. Yes, it’s disappointing that’s the spot the Flyers have put themselves in. It’s confusing but exciting that one small stretch could flip this season on its head and erase not all, but a lot of the embarrassment from a historically bad March. We’ve seen several struggling Flyers teams finally thrive when their backs went up against the wall over the last few years. We’re about to find out if this year’s group has that trait in them, too. Regardless of what happens on Monday night in Boston, there’s only one question left to ask: are you ready? Good. Hopefully, the Flyers are, too.

Lindies

In a nice moment relating to the Flyers for a change, forward Tanner Laczynski made his NHL debut tonight. The team’s 2016 4th round pick signed his ELC about a year ago after a strong four-year collegiate career at Ohio State. He was sidelined early in the year with an injury but put up 10 points in 16 games for the Phantoms in the AHL.

Laczynski nearly scored his first goal on a centering pass that Noah Dobson nearly flicked into his own net. The fact he received PK time in the 3rd made it clear that this isn’t just a “we’re calling up a kid because we’re punting the season and want to see what he’s got” move. And he’s also the first Flyer to wear #58 since Taylor Leier in 2016-17. The Flyers think Laczynski can help them now, and I certainly hope they’re right. Michael Raffl came out of the lineup as a result.

Speaking of rookies and ELCs, Cam York’s entry-level deal is for $880,833 a season, starting this year, per CapFriendly.

Phil Myers suffered a scary-looking injury (it appeared to be to his shoulder) in a 3rd-period collision with Brock Nelson. He immediately went down the tunnel, but did return and finished the game. Myers hasn’t had an amazing season, but considering the Flyers’ lack of better options, that’s a dodged bullet, for sure.

Speaking of defensive options, it seems like Robert Hagg practiced yesterday. Perhaps he’s close to returning from the shoulder injury that’s sidelined him since March 17.

If nothing else, Sam Morin and Ross Johnston’s warm-up scheduled scrap in the early first period was an exciting scrap. Not sure it did too much to shape the outcome, though.

The Flyers fall to 1-3 in shootouts this year (their lone win coming against Buffalo on March 9). On the other hand, the Islanders improve to 3-1 in the skills contest in 2021.

After being one of the worst teams in the league in shot differential through the first month a half, the Flyers were +125 in shots during March, the third-best gap in the NHL. Obviously, some of that has to do with score effects (aka opponents sitting back during blowout Flyers losses), but still… AGH. I’d swear to never complain about the process again, but I’m not going to make a promise I can’t keep.

Expect a new edition of Vendetta’s monthly NHL power rankings coming in the next day or two. Spoiler alert for my list: the Flyers will be ranked very low, the Islanders will be ranked very high. Tonight’s game doesn’t change that since my rankings only factor in what every team did during March.

For reference, here’s what thinks looked like a month ago. As the Flyers ranking shows, a lot has changed since. Hopefully, the Flyers can make a lot of positive change the rest of the way.

Hart Stopper

Ok, I’ve said I’d respond to this article by our Nick Apena for a few days; I think now’s the time to do it. The headline is obviously satire, so I’m not going to delve into that. And I’m obviously not going to debate that this has been a tough season for Carter Hart. “There’s bad, and then there’s Carter Hart” actually captures his performance heading into tonight pretty well. I definitely think Nick thought Hart was going to sit for longer than eight days; I honestly wasn’t too sure how long Hart’s absence was going to be, so no qualms there.

The only thing that’s wrong is that Alain Vigneault hadn’t called out Hart before this past week. That’s wrong; in fact, it’s been just under a month since that happened. I also disagree with what I see as the main premise: that’s there’s something inherently wrong with a 22-year old playing the most stressful position in hockey in one of the league’s best markets needing some time to reset. Yeah, it would’ve been great if Hart trucked through this year with a .915 save percentage as he did in 2019-20 and 2018-19. But the fact that Hart has so much quality NHL experience at such a young age outweighs a lot of that disappointment.

There’s a reason it doesn’t seem like most fans are dramatically concerned about Hart’s long-term future, even if his struggles this season have certainly played a role in the team currently sitting on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. Everyone sucks at times; Hart wasn’t going to waltz through his entire career without ever encountering a slump. Granted, this is a pretty huge slump, but at the end of the day, I do think that’s all it is.

The results showed for themselves tonight. Hart’s glove hand, a major weakness during his slide, was his biggest strength tonight. He ripped Mat Barzal’s late 1st chance, a couple of Ryan Pulock bombs, and Oliver Wahlstrom’s shootout bid out of the air. In fact, Hart wasn’t beat in that spot once all game. He robbed Barzal on a breakaway to keep the game within one in the third. The Islanders generated 2.54 expected goals for in the game, but Hart only allowed two pucks past him. I didn’t know Nick Leddy had bounced back to the point where he could end-to-end like Barzal, but Hart stopped him too. Neither of the goals was his fault, and the first in particular was absolutely unstoppable. He robbed Jordan Eberle and JG Pageau point-blank late to secure a critical point in the standings. Hart absolutely played well tonight.

Hart’s .917 save percentage tonight was his highest mark since a February 28 shutout of Buffalo, and just his second game over .900 since the start of February. Obviously, one game doesn’t mean Hart is back in full show-stopping form. But it shows that he’s still got that level in him, which was necessary for Fletcher to even think about buying. He’ll start again either Monday or Tuesday against a potent Boston team that’s pumped twenty pucks past him in four meetings this season. We’ll see if this is a building block or another Jekyll and Hyde moment for the 2021 Flyers.

3 Stars

3rd: Ilya Sorokin – .938 SV% (30 Saves/32 Shots), 4/4 in Shootout, 2 GA on 2.74 xGA

2nd: Claude Giroux – 2 Goals (10, 11), 4 Shots, 20:19 TOI

1st: Anthony Beauvillier – 2 Goals (7, 8), 21:15 TOI

Next

PHI – 4/5 @ BOS (19-10-5, W1)

NYI – 4/6 vs. WSH (24-9-4, W1)

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Advanced Stats via Natural Stat Trick