Flyers

Flyers 5, Islanders 2: Another lopsided win helps playoff chase

Flyers 5, Islanders 2: Another lopsided win helps playoff chase

BOX SCORE

Once again, the Flyers brought a buzz saw into Nassau.

Five different players scored as the Flyers closed to within five points of the second wild card after beating the Islanders, 5-2, Saturday night for their second win over New York in six days (see standings)

Here are my observations:

• In his first game back from missing two games with an injury, Jakub Voracek had a very eventful first period, mostly positive. He was physical on the backcheck in separating Mathew Barzal from the puck. Voracek was also assessed a five-minute major for interference early in the third period, only because Johnny Boychuk was seriously injured on the play (see story).

However, Voracek overextended his shift in the first period, throwing a puck into the middle of the ice, creating a turnover with the Flyers' fourth line on the ice. The Islanders scored a goal on a redirected shot as a result of Voracek’s turnover.

But Voracek’s strength comes in the form of puck possession, driving hard into the offensive zone, and on two different occasions it led to Flyers goals.

The first one came in the final seconds of the first period, which allowed James van Riemsdyk's rebound goal in front of the crease.

Voracek’s second assist teed up Sean Couturier’s one-time shot and goal. For Voracek, he has eight assists in his last five games. 

• The early gauge on newcomer Ryan Hartman is that he’s wildly inconsistent. He’s shown a physical presence, but doesn’t deliver with every shift.

He’s been out of position defensively at times, but his biggest liability has been a high frequency for the penalty box. He was whistled for a completely unnecessary tripping penalty, but his first goal with the Flyers was a strong, hard-driving play that the Flyers need to see more of.

• Don’t you love karma? Remember when the whistle blew early, disallowing a goal in that critical game against the Penguins?

Well, the Islanders now know that feeling as a potential 5-on-3 goal was not to be with a premature whistle. It was the Islanders' real chance at getting back into the game down 4-1 at that point.

• Brian Elliott was splendid in a good bounce-back game following a bad performance against the Capitals. It will be interesting moving forward to see who gets the start against Ottawa, which despite its record, has been playing its opponents tough lately. Doesn’t sound like interim head coach Scott Gordon will turn to Carter Hart for that game.

• How about these numbers:

The Flyers shot 60 percent in the second period with three goals on just five shots on net.

And the Flyers now have three or more goals in seven straight games, their longest such streak of the season. They’re averaging 4.3 goals in that span.

• I don’t see how the Islanders make it out of the first round of the playoffs. In fact, I’ll contend the Flyers would provide a stronger first-round opponent than the Isles would.

Impressively, four of the Flyers' first five goals came in transition as New York had gaping holes and awful gaps in its defense.

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No gutting and wishes fulfilled, Chuck Fletcher has been impressive with Flyers

No gutting and wishes fulfilled, Chuck Fletcher has been impressive with Flyers

With all of Chuck Fletcher's wheeling and dealing over the past six days, two results stand out in particular.

Firstly, the general manager has done what was asked of him. He was brought on board by president Paul Holmgren and Comcast Spectacor chairman and CEO Dave Scott to make things happen now, not later. Back in late November, early December, both Holmgren and Scott believed the Flyers had all the resources to be further along in their process toward contending for a Stanley Cup.

They wanted action.

In a span of six days before the NHL entry draft has even arrived, Fletcher parted ways with Radko Gudas and Andrew MacDonald, added experienced veterans Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun, and signed Kevin Hayes, a top-six forward entering "the prime of his career," as the GM put it Wednesday.

Secondly, the process suffered no casualties. Fletcher didn't injudiciously disassemble the work done before him. The Flyers didn't lose a prospect from their impressive pool or sacrifice a young foundation piece to get better.

They had 10 picks in the 2019 draft and upwards of $30 million in cap space. It's been more than time to augment what's in place, so Fletcher took his resources and went to work. The Flyers lost three picks (one in 2020) and cap space.

It's how you get better.

"Speaking with the group, that's always been the intention," Fletcher said. "The past few years, the staff has worked hard to acquire as many young assets as possible and rebuild the foundation of the club. At the right time, the idea has always been to more aggressively add veteran pieces. We feel we've done that now."

Down the middle — where the Flyers wanted to be deeper and tougher to play against — the team looks much improved. From first-line center to third-line center, the Flyers boast 26-year-old Sean Couturier fresh off back-to-back 30-goal, 40-assist seasons, 27-year-old Hayes coming off a career-high 55 points split between two teams, and 2017 No. 2 overall pick Nolan Patrick, a two-way guy only 20 years old.

On defense, the Flyers now have three righty-shot blueliners to potentially complement a trio of 22-year-old Ivan Provorov, 23-year-old Travis Sanheim and 26-year-old Shayne Gostisbehere. Niskanen is a Stanley Cup champion, Braun has played 84 playoff games and the Flyers are "bullish" on Philippe Myers, a 22-year-old who was rated as a top-50 prospect last season by NHL Network.

"When you combine our signing of [Hayes] with acquiring the two veteran right-shot defensemen that we did in the past week, we just think as a group, we're stronger, we're deeper and we filled a lot of the holes that we identified coming into the summer," Fletcher said.

On paper, it looks good — especially with how it was done.

"As importantly as anything, we've kept all of our prospects," Fletcher said. "Our staff has worked hard the last few years to acquire some top picks, some top kids, and we've been able to keep all of those assets. We're still as deep as any franchise with respect to quality and quantity of prospects, and we certainly anticipate adding to that this weekend.

"We knew we were going to have to give up some assets going forward to acquire some pieces that we felt we needed. We kept our first-round pick, which should be a great asset for our franchise — it's a strong draft and we have the 11th selection, so we anticipate drafting a very good player there. We still have two third-rounders, both of which are early in the round.

"We're a deeper group right now, a more talented group. But we have a lot of work ahead of us. We have a new coaching staff coming in and we'll have an opportunity in training camp to put the pieces together and push forward." 

Fletcher will now focus on this weekend's draft and his restricted free agents. It's only June 19, though. Don't rule out some moves ahead.

"Obviously we'll continue to speak with teams and see what opportunities may be out in the trade market," Fletcher said.

On April 18, the GM was adamant about the Flyers' picture.

"It's not like you have to gut this thing," Fletcher said. "We have cap space, we have picks.

"We're set up where we should have an opportunity to get better quickly."

So far, the Flyers look better. It took less than a week and little was gutted.

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2019 NHL draft profile: Could Cole Caufield drop to Flyers at No. 11?

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Rena Laverty/USA Hockey

2019 NHL draft profile: Could Cole Caufield drop to Flyers at No. 11?

The 2019 NHL entry draft is Friday and Saturday in Vancouver, British Columbia. General manager Chuck Fletcher, assistant general manager Brent Flahr and the Flyers hold the 11th overall pick and eight selections in total.

"This draft's a little unique," Flahr said last week. "Especially in the top 15, there are a number of different types of players, which is interesting — some power wingers, some smaller scoring wingers, some centermen, there's a number of D, a goaltender.

"We've identified probably five or six guys that we think have a chance to be there at 11 and probably some of the other teams in front of us will dictate that. But we're really confident we're going to get a good player."

This week, we are breaking down options for the Flyers at No. 11.

Cole Caufield

Position: Right winger
Height: 5-foot-7
Weight: 162
Shoots: Right
Team: USNTDP

Scouting report

The electric, diminutive winger has climbed draft boards after erupting for 72 goals and 100 points in 64 games this season with the U.S. national U-18 team. His 72 markers set a single-season USNTDP record, which was previously held by 2016 No. 1 overall pick Auston Matthews (55).

Caufield has a big-time shot and an incredible sense for how to score.

"He's as advertised," Flahr said. "He's undersized, but he's a pure goal-scorer, he's a competitive kid. He's got a lot of the intangibles that should allow him to play as a small player. One thing he does is score and scores consistently against all competition."

The Wisconsin commit is the fourth-ranked player in the draft by TSN's Craig Button, while TSN's Bob McKenzie has Caufield at No. 9.

Fit with Flyers

It's difficult to tell when Caufield will hear his name called. His size might scare clubs and he played on a supremely talented team that could see seven prospects drafted in the first round, featuring consensus No. 1 overall pick Jack Hughes.

"Some teams won't draft him because of his size and others aren't worried about it," Flahr said.

"There's a grouping of the guys, his own teammates, that could go in any range there. Would I be surprised if he's there? No. Would I be surprised if he went before us? No."

If Caufield falls to the Flyers at No. 11, he'd be a no-brainer choice. It would be difficult to find a higher-value pick at that point and the Flyers won't mind his small stature; they could use some more pure goal-scoring wingers in the system.

More on the 2019 NHL draft

• Flyers take one of draft's best D-men in this 1st-round mock

• Trading No. 11 pick? Draft dynamic? That and more here

Flyers could have shot to draft 'elite' skating, 6-foot-3 defenseman

• Flyers like 'unique' winger Boldy as option for No. 11 overall pick

• Impressive playmaking center Krebs could be there for Flyers at No. 11