The Flyers seemed like they might be building towards a bit of magic, only to have it snuffed out.
Their run against the Islanders saw them struggle in their losses, and have to scratch and claw for 3 overtime victories. Their Game 7 effort just wasn’t there. After overcoming a 3-1 deficit with back to back OT victories they seemed to lack the emotional energy and intensity you would come to expect from the situation.
This became especially apparent after the Islanders jumped out to a first period lead by virtue of a Scott Mayfield goal. A goal later in the period from Andy Greene would be an effective backbreaker, and a Brock Nelson tally started the processional march for the Flyers season. An Anthony Beauvillier empty-net goal was the backhoe dumping the dirt to bury them. The Flyers would whimper out of the playoffs after making so much noise to end the regular season and in the round-robin.
There are many reasons why the Flyers lost. The one that will be overlooked is that the Islanders were far better constructed for playoff hockey. They are a team that can roll four lines that will forecheck effectively and has a defense that doesn’t back down from an attack. Fast and physical the Islanders were built to battle over a long series. Then add a defensively sound coach in Barry Trotz with the 4th most wins NHL history, 13 playoff appearances, and a Stanley Cup over his 21-year career and you’ve got a team that’ll be incredibly difficult to defeat.
The Flyers had issues trying to defeat the Montreal Canadiens, another defensively strong team with solid goaltending. The Islanders got decent goaltending during the series and their forecheck allowed them to create offense from all of their lines. Apart from Ivan Provorov, the defense was not prepared or put in a position to succeed in the playoffs. Matt Niskanen looks as if 1st pair minutes are too much for him, and pairing the offensive-minded youths in Travis Sanheim and Phil Myers resulted in frequent mistakes which far outweighed any good they did on the ice. The physical talent is there for both players, but the regression in hockey IQ and the fact they were often physically dominated does not inspire confidence. Both will come into next year with serious questions to answer. Robert Hagg and Justin Braun were ok but with Braun being a UFA and Hagg’s position isn’t safe with Yegor Zamula lurking, plus nobody is ever sure what’s happening with Shayne Gotsisbehere.
Another flaw was the Flyers’ goal scoring. It never showed up. Travis Konecny, leading regular goalscorer, managed zero. This made his role as an agitator far less effective. Subsequently, his cold streak, along with Jake Voracek’s made things difficult for Claude Giroux to set anyone up. Sean Couturier had a knee injury which made him miss Game 6 and played Game 7 with a sprained MCL but wasn’t a factor in the series. Kevin Hayes was the most productive of the top six forwards in the series but was also too often on the wrong side of the puck, not showing the escapability he typically does. Scott Laughton and James van Riemsdyk were both healthy scratches at times, and outright bad others. They showed up for Games 5 and 6 but more is expected from them. Joel Farabee was ok in his first playoffs, but the need for a boost in this strength and experience was evident as well.
The bottom 6 forwards like Tyler Pitlick and Michael Raffl continued their strong play from the regular season and were noticeable in most games. Nicolas Aube Kubel played well but didn’t have the same scoring punch as he did during his limited run in the regular season. Derek Grant flashed in the regular season, and provided some physicality in the playoffs that were few and far between for the Flyers, but didn’t gel with his linemates or find an offensive groove. Nate Thompson won faceoffs with the best of the percentage-wise but seems to just not have the foot speed to be an effective fourth-line forward anymore.
Oskar Lindblom came back, which is a massive victory in its own right. If he’ll be able to return to the form he showed earlier this season remains to be seen but is much less important then him just being healthy and staying healthy again. Carter Hart almost joins Lindblom in the realm above criticism but falls just short of that. While Hart was brilliant at times and showed true resiliency at times. He needs to improve his puck handling and he had some softer goals go in than we’ve become accustomed to.
Coaching also let the Flyers down. Alain Vigneault had some challenges go against him in the series which cost the Flyers. Mike Yeo’s once dangerous penalty kill seemed to become ineffective and each penalty the Flyers took put them at a serious disadvantage. Similarly, the powerplay run by Michel Therrien was putrid. At just 4 for 52 the squad was given chance after chance to right the ship but was never able to make it work. If you were going to rank reasons as to why the Flyers lost, the powerplay would be high on the list. They went 0-13 against the Islanders alone. One of their most effective guns from the regular season was filled with blanks these playoffs.
For whatever reason, there was a belief that this Flyers team was truly a cup contender. They were ranked #1 after the round-robin but they weren’t the best team in the conference. They were a hot team at the time of the shutdown, but there was no way to keep that momentum going. Their fatal flaws came to light against a worthy opponent. The Flyers were treated like a true #1 seed when that simply wasn’t real, just in name only.
Next season the roster will be different. Fan favorites might be gone. The coaching staff may change. There will be few constants but the Flyers team is taking steps forward. Next year might be the one where it is by leaps and bounds. We’ll find out then.