The Philadelphia Flyers had yet another wretched week with a four-game series against the New Jersey Devils. The Devils came into the series on a nine-game losing streak –– all in regulation –– and got outscored 39-17 in that span. But you couldn’t tell that if you watched their games against the Flyers.
If it had not been for Claude Giroux‘s heroics with the goalie pulled last Sunday, the Flyers would’ve been swept by the Devils in the four-game series. After the 4-3 shootout win, the Flyers lost the final three games by multiple goals, and they really weren’t competitive in any of them. That’s unacceptable, even with the Flyers eliminated from playoff contention.
Saturday night’s game marked the Flyers’ 29th loss, guaranteeing that they’ll finish with more losses than wins this season. The Flyers have 51 points in 51 games with a 22-22-7 record but might struggle to stay above the .500 mark for points this season as well.
With the Flyers continuing to spiral in an already lost season, you might think that they’d have some answers at this point.
Flyers games have mostly followed a familiar script this season. They have had slow starts, bounced back with some energy for a period of time, but fall apart again before the end of the game. Throughout the game, the Flyers either allow a bad goal or two due to poor goaltending or defensive breakdowns, can’t capitalize on their own chances (if they generate any), or a combination of both.
That’s exactly what happened in Saturday night’s 4-1 loss to close out the four-game series.
“Tonight, especially in those first two periods, we had tremendous amount of offensive looks and tremendous amount of offensive zone time. Didn’t get enough out of it and couldn’t make that team pay for the mistakes that they made,” Alain Vigneault said after Saturday’s loss.
The Flyers fell behind 1-0 in the first period on a weak goal allowed by Brian Elliott. They pushed back, but the Devils took advantage of a defensive breakdown to go up 2-0 early in the second period. With the Flyers in a prime position to climb back into the game on a power play in the third, Nico Hischier scored shorthanded to all but put the game away.
That has been a common theme in recent weeks for the Flyers. They force themselves to chase the game, and that’s never a good thing.
“This is a league where statistically if you score the first goal, I think it’s close to 75% a chance of you winning that game,” Vigneault said. “Whether it’s us not making the opposition early on pay for one of their mistakes, or them making us pay early; we’re always chasing the game, and this is a tough game to be chased physically and mentally.”
Claude Giroux is one of the few players that has shown up night in and night out this season. He has had a heavy hand in many wins and comeback attempts, including last Sunday. The frustration has been building this season for Giroux and Co.
“When the pucks not going in, obviously you get frustrated and you’re going to try to change a little bit and try to do something to put the puck in the net, the whole team right now there’s a lot of frustration,” Giroux said on Saturday night. “Our record at home this year hasn’t been good and to be honest, I’m not too sure what to say here.”
Giroux wasn’t the only Flyers player at a loss for words after three straight regulation losses to one of the worst teams in the league. Brian Elliott, who has been up-and-down this season, had a similar answer when asked about the team’s consistent issue of falling behind early.
“It’s just kind of how we’ve been coming out,” Elliot said. “I don’t know how to answer that question I’m sorry,” he concluded.
Elliott gets to see the whole ice in front of him and did have a fair answer when asked what he saw in Saturday’s game.
“That is just an open-ended question. It’s really hard to focus on one thing,” he said. “It just feels like we’re a lot of in-between. When you’re indecisive or not sure, it tends to not turn out well. I think if we trust our instincts and go with the first play and make it hard –– even if it’s the wrong play, if you do it hard, it usually works out. I think we just need to be a little bit more decisive and try not to be in between what you’re thinking out there. ”
Indecisiveness could be an issue for the Flyers. At times, you can see exactly what Elliott is describing: a player gets caught in between two potential plays and instead of making one, he waits and gets beaten by the opposition. But it’s not for a lack of trying.
The Flyers have had quite a few lackluster losses in recent weeks, and Sean Couturier described their start in Tuesday night’s loss as “unacceptable.”
However, it’s not for a lack of caring. The captain made sure to shoot down that question after the third straight loss to the Devils.
“The guys care in the locker room. I don’t think there is laziness on the team,” Claude Giroux said on Saturday. “Right now, it’s just one thing goes wrong and there’s always a second and third wrong thing that’s happening. I don’t think laziness is part of this.”
If laziness isn’t a part of it, and the Flyers are playing their best, they are going to need to change a lot of things up for next season. Losing a few games in a row is one thing. Looking uninterested in lackluster losses is another. The effort has to be there.
There are only five games left in the season and the Flyers’ schedule doesn’t get any easier. They host the Penguins, who sit atop the East Division, for a back-to-back to start this week. They then head to D.C. for a back-to-back against the Capitals, who are right on the Penguins’ tail.
The Flyers are going to help decide who earns the top seed in the East Division. Rather than them potentially earning that spot like some thought before the season, they’ll be stuck in sixth place with an offseason full of changes ahead of them.
Photo: Heather Barry Images