Flyers 5: Takeaways from Sunday’s Flyers-Devils Game
Two weeks from today, the Flyers will be preparing to play in their final game of the 2020-21 season. That isn’t mathematically official yet, but it is essentially a given.
Logically, there appears to be no path for the Flyers to make the playoffs at this point, and if you watch the overall quality of play on the ice, you see a team that may be able to survive games against the Devils, Sabres, and perhaps the Rangers, but doesn’t stand near as much of a chance with the true class of the East Division.
So, two weeks from now will mark the final day of another season of disappointment, another season where expectations didn’t meet reality, another season where a core group of players are defined by this identity, or lack thereof.
On this night, it looked like another dismal performance, just another game of going through the motions. That was until the final two minutes, when the captain of the team willed them to a comeback, eventually ending with a 4-3 victory following a six-round shootout.
Here are five takeaways from Sunday’s game.
1. Comeback Claude
Claude Giroux takes a lot of scrutiny for the team’s performance over the last decade. On one hand, there is room to justify some of that. This is the captain of the team and on his watch, things shouldn’t sink to the level they have this season, collectively as a team.
But Giroux also doesn’t get the appreciation he deserves as an athlete who could really have chosen to go either direction – embrace the city of Philadelphia and its fans for everything they are, or move on and start a new life and career somewhere else. Giroux has never thought about the latter option. He’s as invested as any athlete in the city.
The problem with Giroux is not all that different than with the team. The expectations sometimes don’t meet reality. So often, the definition of captain doesn’t just become a leader, but the highest performer when it comes to points. It’s the guy that everyone expects to be there in the late game situations, to regularly carry the team to victory. In many eyes, Giroux hasn’t done that enough.
But he has done it regularly over his career, just not at the frequency everyone wants. That was the Claude Giroux you saw in the final minutes of regulation on Sunday night.
Down by two, the Flyers were on their way to another lifeless, embarrassing loss to a team that has lost nine straight games. In fact, the Devils didn’t even so much as have a lead during the last nine games. And here were the Flyers, already one of the biggest disappointments in the league this season, about to add another one of those losses to the list.
Giroux though did something that a Flyer has not done since Jaromir Jagr was on Giroux’s wing. Jagr scored a pair of goals in 18 seconds back on Feb. 18, 2012. Giroux’s two goals came in 22 seconds, the eighth fastest in Flyers franchise history.
On top of that, it was also Giroux’s 30th career multi-goal game.
Giroux certainly had help, getting assists on both goals from Jake Voracek and James van Riemsdyk. This trio is often right at the forefront of any discussions with the team. They make the most money. They are among the oldest players on the team. They are among the players to have been with the team the longest. When things aren’t going well, change is demanded.
But these players really haven’t been the problem this year. Defense is a team-wide thing. As much as we can scrutinize Giroux or Voracek for a defensive gaffe, there are four others guys often making a mistake as well in front of the netminder.
Offensively, these veteran players have really delivered just about everything expected when you add it all up over a full 82-game season. There are other younger players that may not have taken the biggest step forward as envisioned, or even regressed in a year where there was so much expectation.
It’s what’s going to make for an interesting offseason in Philadelphia. There are a lot of difficult decisions ahead. Some will naturally involve the oldest and longest-tenured members of the roster. It may involve the younger players just as much.
But it will not involve Claude Giroux. The captain isn’t going anywhere. Games like Sunday night’s are the reason why.
2. Climbing the List
Those two goals for Giroux also carried some Flyers history with them. With his first goal, Giroux moved into a tie for third place all-time in points with Brian Propp. That lasted all of 22 seconds before Giroux’s second goal and 850th career point moved him into third place by himself.
This is again what makes Giroux such a prolific Flyer in franchise history. Yes, the playoff success and a championship are not on his resume and that’s a blemish for sure. But here’s a player who in a franchise with more than 50 years of existence is ninth all-time in goals with 270, and not a noted goal scorer. He’s second to Bobby Clarke in assists. He’s second to Clarke in games played. He’s now third in points, and Bill Barber is only 33 points ahead.
Next season, Giroux is expected to surpass two more key milestones. With 34 more points for the remainder of this season and into next, he’ll be second on the list in points. He’s 150 points away from being only the second Flyer ever to reach 1,000 points,
Similarly, with a full season of 82 games, Giroux would also become the second Flyer to reach 1,000 games played. He’s still a sizable distance from Clarke’s games played (1,144) and points (1,210) records. But falling short of Clarke’s numbers is far from a disappointment over an entire career.
3. Keeping It Close
The rest of the game didn’t involve much of note, but the Flyers did have a successful penalty kill, going 3-for-3. Notably, the Flyers had to kill off two penalties late in the game, one while the margin was still 3-1 with under five minutes to play and another in overtime.
Special teams in general has taken a beating this season. It’s completely deserved too. The penalty kill has lost the team games. The lack of power play success has made it so the Flyers were unable to turn games back around that could have become victories.
Still, any form of consistent success in these areas helps in any way possible. A 3-for-3 night with two late-game kills is certainly a success, no matter who you play.
4. Another Win for Moose
Brian Elliott’s future with the Flyers is certainly up in the air. He’s 36 and on an expiring contract, well into the twilight of his career. Who knows how many years he has left in the tank anyway?
That said, the Flyers face an important decision in net going into next season. Carter Hart is the goalie of the future. Even a rough season like this one isn’t going to change that. But the Flyers have perfectly demonstrated this season how important it is to have not only a reliable backup, but the young star/grizzled veteran dynamic that many teams employ in goal.
Elliott has filled the grizzled veteran role perfectly. His goals against and save percentage numbers are far from perfect, but his record is really what tells the story. Elliott is now 13-6-2 in 21 starts and 25 games played.
Whether Elliott is the guy in that role or not next season, the formula for him is pretty simple. Elliott’s numbers have taken a hit from starts he’s made when getting too much of the action. When you can perfectly balance his workload and give him appropriate time between starts, he’s essentially come in and given the Flyers a chance to win almost every night. Sunday was no exception.
5. The Series Continues
As the series with the Devils continues on throughout the week, there are a few storylines to consider.
The Flyers have won back-to-back games just once in the last nearly two months. It was a win over the Rangers on March 27 and a similar come-from-behind win on March 29 against Buffalo. Other than that, every win has been met with a loss or multiple losses. The Flyers will be looking to at least string together some wins as the season ends.
New Jersey’s winless streak has now reached 10. Here’s something of significance with that – remember that in the game following a Flyers comeback that prolonged Buffalo’s losing streak to 18 games, the Sabres won for the first time in over a month two nights later. Could it be New Jersey’s turn on Tuesday?
Another little factoid: if it feels like the Flyers have to do everything just to even get a win, you would be right. The 4-3 shootout decision was yet another one-goal margin of victory. The last time the Flyers won by more than a goal? Feb. 28 in a 3-0 win over Buffalo.
Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN and Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.