The Flyers will play the New York Islanders for the first time since last year’s playoffs. They have to hope their star players will show up and their power play won’t go 0-for-13 again.
“I haven’t seen them since Game 7 in the bubble,” Flyers goaltender Carter Hart said after Thursday’s win in New Jersey. “It’s going to be a great battle. Two great hockey teams, and we’re all looking forward to it.”
It took New York the full series to dispatch the Flyers, who used overtime goals in Games 5 and 6 to force a deciding game. But the Islanders were the better team throughout the series after winning all three meetings during the regular season, one in a shootout.
“We’re excited for these two games,” said Claude Giroux, one of the players who had a rough series against the Isles. “It’s not a good feeling when somebody knocks you out of the playoffs.”
Giroux, who had one goal in the playoff series, had four points in the two games against the Devils. Jake Voracek had just one assist in the postseason against the Isles and is on a five-game points steak (one goal, six assists).
Islanders need to ‘regroup’
Neither team is particularly happy with its play early in this shortened season. The biggest difference is that the Flyers (5-2-1) are managing to grind out enough points to be near the top of the division while the Islanders (3-4) have come up empty more often than not and are one point away from last place.
The Flyers will be without Sean Couturier (rib injury), their best defensive forward, and possibly two of their top four defensemen from a year ago. Matt Niskanen retired, but Phil Myers is making progress after fracturing a rib on Jan. 19.
Myers’ participation in Wednesday’s practice was encouraging. He did not play Thursday but skated Friday while his teammates took the day off.
New York just lost a pair of games at Washington, which was without a handful of key pieces due to COVID-19 protocol violations, most notably top liners Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov.
“The whole division is ultra competitive. There’s not much difference between the top teams and the bottom teams. It’s going to be a grind. Let’s embrace the grind.”
“We’re going to have to regroup,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “This is a punch in the mouth and an uppercut to the jaw. You just have to pick yourself up off the floor because no one else is going to do it.”
The Islanders’ biggest departure from a year ago is goaltender Thomas Greiss (Detroit), who gave the Flyers fits in the playoffs culminating with a 4-0 doughnut in Game 7. Semyon Varlamov is now the clear No. 1.
The Flyers are expected to split the two games between their goaltenders, Hart and Brian Elliott -- the guess here is Elliott on Saturday, Hart on Sunday..
“For us, our game is maybe not exactly where we want it to be right now,” Giroux said. “But I think we’re going to keep working on it and get it where it’s supposed to be. It’s going to be a good test for us, for sure.”