Last season the expected outcome of a Flyers-Islanders matchup would have been a foregone conclusion. The Islanders, the league's worst team one year ago, were not able to defeat (or even compete with) the Flyers in six tries. Trust us, we were at games in both New York and Philadelphia last year and saw it firsthand. It wasn't pretty. In fact, coming in to the game the Isles had dropped 13 of their previous 14 games to the Flyers and had not beaten them since February of 2008. Yes, 21 months ago.
But this season has had a different feel to it. The Islanders have some new blood, a new energy, and a more positive outlook. Their play is improved. They have challenged some of the best talent the NHL has to offer, and while nobody is calling the team a contender yet, they have maintained a steady course with 25 points in 24 games.
It was therefore no surprise when the Isles took a 1-0 lead on a Trent Hunter goal on Wednesday (11/25) night. He was fed a brilliant cross-ice pass from John Tavares (some of that new blood we mentioned before) on the power play and easily beat Flyers goalie Brian Boucher. It was Hunter's 5th goal of the year and Tavares' team-leading 20th point.
The Isles really took the play to the Philadelphians in the first period, outshooting them 17-9. New York was doing everything well, including keeping the normally physical play of the Flyers in check.
Fairly even play in the second period saw the Isles still holding a tenuous single goal lead as the teams neared the late intermission. But then Brendan Witt took a penalty with time winding down (1:57 left), the Flyers capitalized on the chance, and suddenly all of the team's good work for 40 minutes was out the window.
In the third period the Islanders unfortunately again went into sleepwalking mode. That, more than anything, has defined their play this season. They generated only one shot on goal for the entire frame, showing no fire in a very winnable game. Flyers star Scott Hartnell made the Islanders pay for their laziness as he and Jeff Carter hooked up for what would be the game winning goal at 14:33. With about 5 minutes left, most of the crowd got an early jump on their holiday and began filing out of the arena.
After the game, coach Scott Gordon was about as livid as we're ever seen him. Visibly upset, he bemoaned the fact that once again the team did not do what is necessary in the third period to win close games. He cited the lack of speed entering the offensive zone on the attack, the turnovers, and not getting the puck to the net as problem areas. He did not use fatigue as an excuse, stating that the Flyers had an even tougher recent travel schedule than his team.
As for Kyle, he was again held off of the stat sheet, but had a terrific chance to end his goal drought (now at 5 games). He beat Boucher with a high and hard shot that rang off the crossbar. It would have doubled the Isles' lead at the time and made a world of difference in the eventual outcome. But, just like the game as a whole, it will only be remembered as a near miss.