Alain Vigneault is up for the NHL’s coach of the year award for turning the Flyers around during the regular season. If he can figure a way to get his team out of this early second-round bind the Islanders have put his Flyers in, Vigneault will get the Houdini award for pulling an unlikely rabbit out of his toque.
Vigneault also could be up for the Fine Dog loyalty award because, despite all the zeroes his top end players have under the “goals” column on the stat sheet, the coach remains optimistic.
“I believe in them,” Vigneault, in his first season with the Flyers, said Tuesday. “They’re good players. They’ve proven all along. They get another opportunity to go at it [Wednesday] to show that they are elite players in this league. I definitely expect them – and the whole group – to be better.”
Vigneault said he would do “what’s best for the team and find a way to win [Wednesday’s] game.” He initially mentioned Sean Couturier and Jake Voracek as having poor games in Monday’s 4-0 loss to the Islanders in Game 1 of their conference semifinal. He quickly threw a horse blanket to include some of the others in his top 6. He didn’t name them. But he didn’t have to.
“The top players gotta play better,” Claude Giroux said Monday night. “I’m obviously one of them. We gotta get going here.”
Vigneault said there were no similarities of the 4-0 loss to the Islanders to the 5-0 loss to Montreal in the first round. There were a couple breakdowns that led to goals against the Islanders. Travis Sanheim lost a battle in the corner on the second goal, and Joel Farabee was caught out of position on the third. But the coach didn’t think his team was nearly as bad as when Montreal waxed them.
“I believe if we get the same looks, sooner or later we’ll be able to put the puck in the net,” Vigneault said.
Later could become sooner with the condensed schedule of this round. With back-to-back games coming up, the Flyers could be down, 0-3, by 9:30 Thursday night and on their way back home late Saturday afternoon.
But that’s getting way ahead of ourselves, especially for a team that hasn’t lost consecutive games since well before the coronavirus.
“We know how to respond,” Kevin Hayes said. “I’ve got all the faith in the world in my teammates right now. Obviously, losing 4-0 sucks, but you can’t lose the series until you lose four.”
The problem of course is that, while they are down 1-zip to the Islanders, they have been outscored by New York, 17-9, this season and have lost five in a row to the Isles going back to last season.
As impressive as Dallas has been in the West, the Islanders’ 8-2 playoff record is the most impressive mark in the Toronto bubble. New York had lost seven in a row before the COVID-19 stoppage.
Since the round-robin, Hayes has one goal, while Giroux, Couturier, Travis Konecny and Scott Laughton have zero. That’s one goal on a combined 61 shots. And it’s starting to seep into other parts of their games.
Laughton has been plagued by turnovers. Konecny was effective Monday but is still frustrated. Giroux has been a non-factor five-on-five. All of the top players’ Corsi percentages, which measures which team controls the puck during even strength, are down from the regular season.
At this point, we’re just piling it on. Thank heaven for the 22-year-old goaltender, and the quick turnaround.
“We know exactly what to expect from the Islanders as far as them coming at us,” Vigneault said. “We have to be willing to get hit to make a play with the puck. Our guys have always bounced back, and [this] will be a big test of that.”