If you crave tight-checking, low scoring hockey with a bit of hate thrown in for good measure, this is the series for you. The number six ranked New York Islanders lock horns with the number one ranked Philadelphia Flyers in one of two second-round Eastern Conference series set to drop the puck Monday night. Tampa Bay/ Boston begins Sunday evening. Both clubs are trying to rekindle some playoff magic not seen since the 1980s. This will be the first time the two have met in the playoffs since 1987. Let’s dive in and take a gander on what’s gone right for both teams and what we can expect in what should be a very even playoff series.
New York Islanders
It is abundantly clear that Islander players have bought into Barry Trotz’s defense-first approach to winning games. So far in these playoffs, it has paid off in spades. New York made quick and easy work of 2018 Cup Champions Washington Capitals in the first round. Trotz is getting maximum value out of this roster, which in terms of star power isn’t the most blessed. But this is the playoffs, not the all-star game.
New York boasts the second-best goals-against per game mark of the postseason at 1.67, this isn’t surprising. What is though is the 3.33 goals per game they have generated. At the forefront is little-known forward Anthony Beauvillier. His six goals are tied for the league-lead for these playoffs. Beauvillier, Josh Bailey, and Brock Nelson play on the same line and have been the teams most productive. Nelson has seven points and is leading Islander forwards in ice time at 18:26 per contest. He has also been great in the faceoff circle winning an impressive 57.7% of them.
At the back end, the Isles have been rock solid and stingy, as per usual. They have allowed the second-fewest shots against for this year’s playoffs, just 25.2 per game. New York’s deep group of very good defenseman is led by Ryan Pulock and Nick Leddy. Pulock has a goal and five assists. His six points are the most for Islander d-men. Veteran Nick Leddy is tied for the team lead in plus-minus with a mark of +9.
At the very back end is goaltender Semyon Varlamov. Varlamov, who has been tested less the most other ‘tenders, is doing everything the team has expected him to do. He holds a .934 save percentage and a 1.67 GAA.
If we were to nit-pick a weakness to the Islanders game, it would be the special teams. The 15.8 PP% is somewhat respectable, but the 75.0% PK will need to improve against the Flyers who have a very solid offense.
Flyers fans cringed when pro sports went on long-term hiatus. Their team was rolling pre-pandemic as they skated to a 19-6-1 record over their last 26 games. The long break appeared to affect them as the Montreal Canadiens of all teams, pushed them to six hard-fought low-scoring games. To date, Philly is averaging just 2.44 goals per contest, far off their regular-season average of 3.29.
Jakub Voracek has been the club’s, top scorer, with four goals and four assists. Pesky forward Sean Couturier has yet to get it going offensively as he has just five assists. He is doing everything else at a high level though. He is winning faceoffs at a 59.3% rate while leading the Flyer forwards in ice time with 19:53 minutes of ice per game. Couturier is setting a tone physically as well, he leads the team in hits with 23. Another high-talent forward, Claude Giroux, has yet to play his best. He has all of four assists.
Philly has a solid group of defensemen, much like the Isles. The separation for me is between the crease. 22-year-old netminder Carter Hart is every bit as good as advertised. He has shined so far in these playoffs, how about a .942 save% and a 1.71 GAA.
Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim are leading the defensive core. Provorov has raised his game another level this season, and it has filtered into the postseason. Provorov has four points, 14 blocked shots, and a team-leading 25:14 of average ice time per game. Sanheim has chipped in for four points and is a respectable +4.
This series has me torn on selecting a winner. Both teams are playing playoff-style hockey, lots of hitting, and lots of backchecking. The better team here is the Flyers but the way they played against Montreal gives me some major pause. The Islanders look like a freight train coming through after dismantling the Capitals with relative ease. Beating Carter Hart consistently will be a major challenge for Trotz’s crew, even still, give me the Islanders, barely, in seven games.
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Main Credit Image: Embed from Getty Images
Main Credit Image: Embed from Getty Images