In my preview post, I asked three questions about the forwards and three questions about the defense. I did not list a question about goaltending because I wasn't aware of who would be playing. But let's start there.
(Note: I'm pulling most of this from HockeyViz.com, which is going to end up being my favorite website during this hockey season.)
Though the score makes it seem like this game was a blowout, it was very back-and-forth between the two teams. It's not as if the Islanders couldn't get anything set up on offense, or they were at a disadvantage in time of possession.
The Flyers' defense just kept them to the outside, clogged up the passing and shooting lanes, and Steve Mason stopped everything that managed to squeak through. I don't know the final number of saves because there isn't a single media outlet on Google News that has a recap of the game up now, but Mason looked great.
The presumptive third line played together for the first time last night, and they actually led all Flyers forwards in ice time. Weise scored one of the greasier goals possible, Cousins nearly got in a fight with someone who is 7 inches taller and 60 pounds heavier than him, and Laughton got penalty kill time instead of power play time.
Sometimes I forget that Laughton is supposed to be a defensive center, and in my mind I want him to fill the top-six winger role. But this trio all looked solid, and they finished about even in shot attempts (but on the "dull" side instead of the "fun" side, which is okay for a line like this). I wouldn't be averse to seeing them in that third line in games that count.
Matt Read & Jordan Weal
Weal, of course, got the benefits of (1) playing with Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn and (2) starting just one of his 14 shifts in the neutral zone and the rest in the offensive zone. His line finished positive in shot attempts at even strength, and Weal/Schenn each assisted on one of Simmonds' powerplay goals. Weal played in the Giroux spot (Del Zotto and Sanheim played the Voracek/Gostisbehere spots), and he was impressive enough that he might get time on the second unit, if he can, you know, make the actual team.
Read did not get powerplay time, but he did get a few shifts on the penalty kill. He was buried in the defensive zone with Michael Raffl and Andy Miele, but that didn't stop them from scoring. It was good to see Read able to use his speed to create offense, and he had good chemistry with Boyd Gordon on the penalty kill. Reports of his death were greatly exaggerated.
The Fourth Line
Speaking of Gordon, he had kind of a quirky night. He started just two shifts on faceoffs, and the other eight were on-the-fly changes. He also played nearly as many minutes on the penalty kill as he did at even strength. That's exactly what he was signed to do. He kills penalties (and he did a good job tonight, as proven by the shutout) so that Claude Giroux doesn't have to.
Vandevelde is what he is. He's a body. He knows the system. I think he's an ideal 13th forward. You can plug him in if anything weird happens, but he's not going to drive play or create offense. He's just a solid end-of-the-roster guy.
Lyubimov is a total wild card for me. He finished with the worst shot attempt differential on the entire team, part of which comes from his poor showing against the NHL-caliber line of Bailey-Cizikas-Prince. He got some powerplay time and some penalty kill time, and I think he looked like he belongs in the NHL. I'll wait for Charlie O'Connor's morning recap before I officially pass my judgment, but I think I'm in on Roaming Lube Him Off.
Well, that's an egg on my face. I used the word "disaster" when I described them, but the 55-57 pairing was the Flyers' best in terms of shot attempts. They weren't particularly sheltered, and there was not a single Islanders player who beat them in head-to-head shot attempts.
Sanheim got time on the top powerplay unit, including this nifty exchange with Phil Myers:
As it turns out, that was not even one of Sanheim's powerplay shifts (the Islanders just kind of stopped trying so it looked like they were down a man). He clearly has the puck skills to play in the league, and that'll only get better this year in Lehigh Valley.Travis Sanheim and Philippe Myers dominated at the point on this goal by Andy Miele. Impressive stuff. pic.twitter.com/8RKQpmFGXI— Sons of Penn (@SonsofPenn) September 28, 2016
Schultz, except for his scary crash into the boards that forced him to the locker room, was his usual self. He didn't do too much that's worthy of a highlight reel, but he's a rock solid defensive defenseman. He needs a partner who is capable of moving the puck at a high level, and Sanheim clearly checks that box. We'll have to see what happens when the World Cup guys return, though, because I don't know if Mark Streit checks that box anymore.
The other two pairings had good nights, but this duo was by far the worst for the Flyers last night. Provorov, to his credit, always shows flashes of being the steady, balanced, all-around defenseman that he's supposed to be. He also sometimes looks like a 19 year old that knows his future is largely riding on the next week and a half.
Here's a silver lining in case you're getting sad: Provorov played 29 minutes and 22 minutes on back-to-back nights, with healthy doses of powerplay and penalty kill time in both games. Management is giving him the look that we all wanted them to. He just needs to be better so he can seize the opportunity.
Do you want to talk about seizing an opportunity? Good Lord I love Philippe Myers. He's huge, and he hits, and he can play the puck. He's a perfect complement to Del Zotto. This is probably just my dumb hot take brain talking but I think he's been the best rookie (forward or defenseman) through camp and the preseason games. I don't think there's any chance that he stays up with the big club this year, but you know...... (trails off until someone else in the room says something)
Gudas is coming back from his hand injury. Gostisbehere and Streit are coming back from the World Cup. Brandon Manning is lurking somewhere. But the future is really goddamn bright, even if Ivan Provorov is maybe not living up to the impossible expectations we had for him. There is a lot of talent, a lot of variety, and it's all going to be ready in the next year or two.
The boys are on the ice again tonight, and I imagine the roster will look a bit different. We'll see you then.