The New York Islanders just won two of three games against the Philadelphia Flyers to continue their impressive season and stay near the top of the MassMutual East Division. The Flyers have struggled this season, but they weren’t an easy team to put away in the last three games, and as a result, there were a lot of takeaways from these contests. The Islanders are preparing for a crucial stretch that will shape a team that is poised to make a playoff run and potentially compete for the Stanley Cup.
Sorokin Continues to Impress
As the season has progressed, Sorokin has started more games, and the continued growth of the 25-year-old goaltender is becoming more noticeable. In this series, we saw Sorokin not only start back-to-back games for the first time this season, but he only surrendered two goals while saving 59 shots in two victories.
Great play from the Islanders’ backup is crucial moving forward as head coach Barry Trotz won’t have to overwork his starting goaltender, Semyon Varlamov, and now has the luxury of being able to start two reliable goalies on a team hopeful of making a playoff run.
The Team Has Depth, Especially on Defense
The Islanders entered the series against the Flyers with many key players out, including Anders Lee and Noah Dobson. Dobson is on the Covid list, and given the 21-year-old defenseman’s remarkable season alongside Andy Greene, his absence meant the defense could fall off. However, instead of a drop-off in the last three games, New York showed their depth as Sebastian Aho finally cracked the starting lineup and showed his impact on both offense and defense. Likewise, Thomas Hickey slid into the lineup for two games and provided much-needed depth, a reminder that the Islanders have a great defense and one with depth as well.
Moreover, when Lee was put on injured reserve, there was going to be a void to fill on the top lines. While it’s hard to replace Lee’s play-making ability and goal-scoring instincts, the Islanders found scoring from the backend of their forward unit. Casey Cizikas, Anthony Beauvillier, and Michael Dal Colle all found the back of the net against the Flyers.
The Islanders are also seeing the rise of one of the best rookie scorers in the game in Oliver Wahlstrom, who scored twice in the series and now has eight goals on the season, but more importantly, provides the team with another viable offensive option on the second or third lines.
The Defense Could Use Dobson’s Play-Making Ability
Dobson was having an incredible season, helping to fill the void left by the departures of Devon Toews and Johnny Boychuk. With three goals and nine assists this season, not only has the 21-year-old been able to create turnovers, but he has generated offense from the point. Losing him to the Covid Protocol List has been a tough loss for the team.
The Islanders defense still played well managed two wins in three games against the Flyers because of their defensive play. However, the instances where Dobson would have given the team that extra boost were noticeable. Hopefully, he will return to the lineup soon and return to the form quickly.
This Series Was a Referendum on the Flyers
New York is a good team that should finish with one of the best records in the division and possibly in the NHL. What stood out from the last three games was not the the team’s strong play, but rather the Flyers’ poor play and some of the underlying question marks on their team moving forward.
The Flyers looked like one of the best teams in the MassMutual East Division entering the season, but the Islanders exposed their lack of depth (both on offense and defense) and their goaltending struggles in the last three games. Especially Carter Hart, who allowed six goals in the Islanders’ victory on Saturday. Both teams are heading in opposite directions, and the past three games reminded us why.
Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November 2020 and covers the New York Islanders. In addition to covering the Islanders, Fink writes about the NHL at large and contributes as a weekly guest to The Hockey Writers Podcast. Follow Mike on Twitter @Finks_thoughts for more Islanders and general hockey insights.