Déja-Vu? The New York Islanders win their second game in a row by a score of 4-0. This time shutting out the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 1 of the second round.
The New York Islanders certainly weren’t the favorites in the second-round over the Flyers but they weren’t the underdogs either. After a convincing five-game gentleman’s sweep over the Capitals, everyone was “woke” to the Islanders. This series was supposed to be close.
But could the Islanders continue what they did against the Caps in round two against a Flyers team with (1) more depth than the Capitals, (2) had been playing well in the round-robin and in the first-round, and (3) had a better goalie between the pipes?
After Johnny Boychuk had to leave Game 1 against the Florida Panthers following a high hit from Mike Matheson, veteran defenseman Andy Greene stepped into the lineup next to Nick Leddy on the third pair. Greene hasn’t left that spot in eight games now.
He’s a lefty playing a righty role, but Greene has looked incredible for the Isles. None of his underlying numbers through the playoffs lead the team, but he’s right there in the middle of the defensive group. The 14-year NHL veteran adds a calming presence on the back end and fits perfectly in the Isles no-mistake system.
It didn’t take long for the veteran to make an impact on the game with an incredibly well-placed shot that beats Carter Hart far side.
After the goal, the Islanders strategy was clear: “Bury them”.
Through the remainder of the period, the Islanders hounded the Flyers into turnover after turnover. By the end of the first, the shots were 15-4 in favor of the Islanders. If not for Carter Hart between the pipes for Philly the score would have easily been 3-0 for the Isles.
Find Your Legs
If there was an Islander fan out there who got complacent after that display in the first period, they got a reminder that hockey is a 60-minute sport in the second period.
While the ice was tilted in the Islanders favor in period one, it was quite the opposite in period two. The Flyers were up 15-7 in shots in the second frame. The Isles held a 61-38 CF% advantage in period one, that advantage was flipped to 69-30 CF% in favor of the Flyers in the second period.
The Flyers found space behind Barry Trotz’s defense time and time again. And they weren’t doing anything special. The Flyers just found their legs after the first intermission.
The Flyers were executing on every hockey cliché you’ve ever heard. First to pucks. Get it deep. Make them work for it. Check, check, check for the Flyers.
The Flyers built up a ton of confidence after the second period. They didn’t score, but they dominate play. Another period like that and they’d certainly find some success. The Isles job in period three was to kill the Flyers hopes of getting back into the game.
Two minutes into the final period the Isles out into practice something Trotz has been preaching for a while: “smart dump-ins”. In an era of controlled zone entries, the Isles coaching preached that controlled zone entries are great, but so are dump-ins if you do it right.
"“It’s all puck management. That’s where analytics, pure possession, entry numbers doesn’t really translate. The math works for the concept of making sure you put the puck in the right areas if you can’t make a play.”"
Early in the third, Adam Pelech floats the puck into the corner where Leo Komarov and Ross Johnston pounce on it. The puck works lose for Komarov who finds Jean-Gabriel Pageau wide open in the slot.
With a 2-0 lead, the Islanders were in a good position to see this out. Disciplined play and sticking to the plan would effectively kill the game.
And the Flyers knew that. Down 2-0 Alain Vigneault would have his team press harder to get on the board, leaving the Isles with a ton of space behind the D. Six minutes after Pageau found the back of the net, Anders Lee, who was on fire in the Capitals series, once again found the back of the net after a great play from the top line.
Add a Devon Toews fortunate empty-net goal and the Isles won 4-0 for the second time in the last two games.
Look out. The Islanders on the march.
Semyon Varlamov: 29SOG, 1.00SV%
Andy Greene: 1G
Leo Komarov: 1A
Sean Couturier: -2, 0SOG
Jakub Voracek: -2, 1SOG
Claude Giroux: -2, 2SOG