It’s been a long run this season with the Philadelphia Flyers. The final week of what a very short and yet disappointing 2020-21 NHL season is upon the Flyers before they head into a crucial offseason that has many question marks and few clear-cut answers.
On Monday and Tuesday, they will host the East Division leading Pittsburgh Penguins.
Here’s what to watch Monday night:
2 different situations
Entering this season, the Flyers had some roster concerns off the bat, especially the unreplaced departure of Matt Niskanen via early retirement, but still seemed to be at least a likely playoff team after a breakthrough 2019-20 season and trip to game seven of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. For Pittsburgh, after three Stanley Cup championships amid a 14-year era of being at least a Cup contender, the window for another one seemed to be nearly closed. The Penguins were widely predicted to face a battle to reach postseason play.
Nothing changed those predictions after the regular season opened with the Flyers beating the Penguins by 6-3 and 5-2. The Penguins had a territorial edge in both games, but the Flyers won comfortably. Carter Hart outplayed Tristan Jarry by a wide margin in both games and the Flyers were opportunistic on their chances with a seemlngly well-balanced lineup.
Fast forward to March, which started with the Flyers and Penguins playing each other three straight games in Pittsburgh. The Flyers entered the month with the top points percentage in the East (11-4-3 record), a team 3.39 goals per game average, and a team 2.89 goals against average. There were a variety of areas that needed to be cleaned up but it seemed doable. The Penguins, who had played two more games than the Flyers at that point due to the COVID-19 related postponements of four games for the Flyers, entered March with an 11-8-1 record, but were below in the goals-per-game (3.25) vs. team GAA (3.25) categories. Pittsburgh also learned they’d be without Sidney Crosby for at least the first game of the three-game set when he was placed in COVID-19 protocol.
Pittsburgh won the first game nonetheless, prevailing by a 5-2 score. Two nights later, the Flyers very quickly fell into a 3-0 deficit but, led by Claude Giroux, battled all the way back and claimed a 4-3 regulation win despite Crosby being back in the Penguins’ lineup and the Flyers being without Joel Farabee (who was scorching hot offensively at the time) for that game.
In what proved to be a major turning point of the season for both teams, the clubs met for the rubber match on March 6. The Flyers held leads of 1-0 and 3-2. Late in the second period, however, Brian Elliott led up a very stoppable goal to Zach Aston-Reese that sent the game to the third period tied at 3-3. Midway through the third period, Jared McCann put the Penguins ahead, and they went on to beat the Flyers in regulation, 4-3. The Penguins’ bounce-back win after blowing the three-goal lead on March 4 was the true takeoff point of their season and the beginning of the Flyers’ nightmarish slide from first-place contender to a team that has already been eliminated from playoff contention.
From March 1 to May 2, the Flyers have staggered to a record of 11-18-4 with a 2.42 GPG average and 3.94 GAA. Pittsburgh has the NHL’s second-best record in that span (23-7-2) with a team 3.69 GPG and 2.38 GAA.
It turned out be Carter Hart who has had a nightmarish season, while Jarry settled in and has posted a 23-9-3 record, .912 SV%, a pair of shutouts and even four assists.
Hockey being hockey, however, the Flyers won a 2-1 in a shootout in Pittsburgh on April 15. In what turned out to be Hart’s last game of the 2020-21 season before he was shut down for an MCL sprain suffered late in this season, the Flyers goalie looked like his old self in posting 30 saves during the game and stopping two of three shots in the skills competition. Crosby scored the lone Pittsburgh goal during regulation.
Entering the closing back-to-back of the season series, the Flyers have a 4-2-0 record against Pittsburgh in head-to-head meetings.
Eliminated from playoff contention
Last Thursday, the Flyers were mathematically eliminated from Stanley Cup playoff contention. On Saturday, the Flyers lost their third straight game in regulation to the New Jersey Devils after having a comeback win over the Devils in the first game of the four-game set. In the final game, only an otherwise meaningless late third period goal by Farabee prevented Mackenzie Blackwood from recording a shutout. The Devils won, 4-1.
The Flyers had an off-day on Sunday. Monday the team had its annual team picture taken at the Wells Fargo Center in the morning. There was a morning skate, as well, since there was no practice the previous day. Brian Elliott and Alex Lyon will split the goaltending chores in the back-to-back set.
28 Claude Giroux -14 Sean Couturier – 93 Jakub Voracek
86 Joel Farabee – 13 Kevin Hayes – 11 Travis Konecny
25 James van Riemsdyk – 21 Scott Laughton – 57 Wade Allison
23 Oskar Lindblom – 19 Nolan Patrick – 62 Nicolas Aube-Kubel
9 Ivan Provorov – 61 Justin Braun
6 Travis Sanheim – 53 Shayne Gostisbehere
8 Robert Hägg – 5 Phil Myers
34 Alex Lyon
37 Brian Elliott
PP1: Giroux, Couturier, Allison, Voracek, Gostisbehere
PP2: Hayes, Farabee, JVR, Konecny, Provorov
Scratches: 55 Samuel Morin (healthy), 59 Jackson Cates (healthy), 53 79 Carter Hart (MCL sprain, out for the remainder of the season).
Injured reserve: 48 Morgan Frost (shoulder surgery), 58 Tanner Laczynski (hip surgery).
COVID-19 protocol: None.
59 Jake Guentzel – 89 Sidney Crosby – 17 Bryan Rust
19 Jared McCann – 77 Jeff Carter – 42 Kasperi Kapanen
12 Zach Aston-Reese – 53 Teddy Blueger – 16 Jason Zucker
7 Colton Sceviour – 11 Frederick Gaudreau – 18 Sam Lafferty
8 Brian Dumolin – 58 Kris Letang
5 Mike Matheson – 4 Cody Ceci
28 Marcus Pettersson – 6 John Marino
35 Tristan Jarry
[1 Casey DeSmith]
PP1: Rust, Crosby, McCann, Guentzel, Letang
PP2: Zucker, Carter, Kapanen, Matheson, Marino
Scratches: 2 Chad Ruhwedel (healthy), 14 Mark Jankowski (healthy), 67 Radim Zahorna (healthy), 9 Evan Rodrigues (lower body, day-to-day).
Injured Reserve: 13 Brandon Tanev (upper body), 52 Mark Friedman (concussion), 71 Evgeni Malkin (lower body).
When: 7:00 P.M. E.S.T.
Where: Wells Fargo Center
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic