The IslesBlog team’s overview on the New York Islanders’ seven Metropolitan Division opponents continues, and today we’re taking a look at the Isles’ rival from the City of Brotherly Love: the Philadelphia Flyers.
After an optimistic start to the 2020-21 season, the Flyers fell out of playoff contention. In an attempt to prevent that from repeating, the organization had no shortage of moves this offseason. GM Chuck Fletcher worked to implement some major changes to his team, but how will they impact the Islanders?
The Flyers’ biggest changes this offseason were to their defense. A blockbuster three-team trade saw Philadelphia acquiring Ryan Ellis and sending away Nolan Patrick and Philippe Myers. Ellis will step in as a much needed top right-handed defenseman and solidify an impressive pairing next to Ivan Provorov.
Shortly after the expansion draft, Shayne Gostisbehere was traded to the Arizona Coyotes in a pure cap-dump — àla Andrew Ladd. An offensive defenseman, Gostisbehere’s defensive deficiencies (and $4.5 million cap hit) led to him being placed on waivers last season. They brought in Rasmus Ristolainen, who is a big body, has a physical knack to his game, but leaves much to be desired in other parts of his game. Fletcher’s gamble here is that Ristolainen will put up better results not playing for the Buffalo Sabres, but it is a big one.
Their latest defensive move was signing Keith Yandle who had been bought out by the Florida Panthers earlier this summer. Yandle is likely a third-pairing defenseman on the Flyers with major defensive faults, but he will serve to be a huge bolster for the Flyers’ power play as quarterback.
These moves culminate to improve the Flyers’ defensive corps which the Islanders often exploited last season. A first-pairing of Ellis and Provorov, especially, is a threat to shutting down offensive chances. Ristolainen will likely be deployed to match the Islanders’ physical style of play, which often wore down last seasons’ Flyers who had few players who could match it. The Flyers are also in a position to roll out two threatening power play units, with Ellis and Yandle as quarterbacks.
Philly’s biggest offensive change was trading Jakub Voracek for Cam Atkinson. The loss of Voracek’s production could hurt the Flyers unless Atkinson steps up to replace it. However, Atkinson is a two-way forward who will be deployed on both the power play and penalty kill, and who’s defensive responsibility will help make up for last season’s biggest issues.
Nate Thompson was brought back, and is likely to see little time as the 13th forward. Nolan Patrick was dealt in the Ryan Ellis trade as mentioned before, but as he was consistently underperforming, the lineup is unlikely to miss him on the ice.
The Flyers’ offense seems to have been slightly depleted, something the Islanders will have to take advantage of by shutting them down further. They will too need to power through added two-way forward depth without being forced to spend too much time in their own zone.
As for goaltending, the Flyers’ is largely up in the air. After losing Brian Elliott to free agency, Fletcher signed Martin Jones — not exactly the best backup left on the market at the time. Jones had a very poor season with the San Jose Sharks, and will just break even with Elliott’s performance last season. Starter Carter Hart was signed to a three-year extension. Hart’s performance last season was, in a word, abysmal. His numbers were worse than that of his new backup, with a shocking .877 SV%.
Similar to last season and barring a huge bounce back to previous form, the Islanders must look to exploit the Flyers in goal. The addition of Jones is unlikely to help much, a positive for the Islanders and a sign to continue throwing everything they can at the net.
Nothing is certain until the two teams face off, but it seems that the Islanders may find success in continuing with last season’s strategies. While the Flyers have potential, their offense and goaltending may prove not up to par.
Follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicolefshirman