If you didn’t know better, you would have thought the Flyers were playing an exhibition game Thursday as coach Alain Vigneault put together a different lineup at the Prudential Center.
The most eye-opening change: Kevin Hayes, who would have played in his 500th career game, was benched, primarily because he has struggled at both ends of the ice for the last month. The veteran center is without a goal in his last 15 games.
Vigneault also assembled a Kid Line that had rookie Jackson Cates (23 years old) centering Joel Farabee (21) and Travis Konecny (24). He gave 21-year-old defenseman Egor Zamula his second NHL game, put untested players Samuel Morin and Carsen Twarynski back in the lineup, kept rookie right winger Wade Allison on the third line, and had goalie Alex Lyon make his 13th career NHL start.
Yep, it’s time to experiment when you have fallen out of the playoff race; time to learn some things that might help next season.
The Flyers dropped a meaningless 5-3 decision to the Devils, who have won two of the first three in this baseball-like, four-game series, which concludes Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center.
With the loss, the Flyers were put out of their misery as they were officially eliminated from playoff contention. They have missed the playoffs in five of the last nine years.
“It’s definitely not the way we saw the year going,” said center Scott Laughton, whose team has six games remaining. “We had very high expectations and it didn’t happen. Some nights we worked hard, but not smart. It’s frustrating. It seems we chased the game a lot, and it’s a tough league to come back on.”
Rookie Yegor Sharangovich scored a pair of first-period power-play goals to give the speedier Devils a 2-0 lead. Lyon allowed a softy from the right circle on the first goal, but had no chance on a slick passing play that gave Sharangovich a backhanded tap-in on the second tally, his 14th goal of the season.
At that point, New Jersey was 4-for-5 on the power play in the last two games as the Flyers’ penalty kill continued its season-long struggle.
On Tuesday, the Devils scored two power-play goals at home for the first time all season. Now they have done it in consecutive games, and probably wishing they could face the Flyers penalty-killing unit every night.
Vigneault said the Flyers have missed the retired Matt Niskanen on the penalty kill, and he mentioned how they have tried some younger players on the unit this year, including Phil Myers.
“It’s made the PK more challenging,” he said, though he wasn’t talking specifically about Myers.
New Jersey, which ended a 10-game losing streak with a 6-4 win Tuesday, has won two straight for the first time since March 21 and 23.
The Devils secured the victory when Pavel Zacha scored off the rush, beating Lyon to the short side with a left-circle shot that gave the hosts a 4-2 lead with 6:45 remaining in regulation.
Jesper Bratt later added an empty-net goal for New Jersey, and Travis Konecny then made it 5-3 as he scored on the power play with 1:50 left.
Falling behind early in games has become a Flyers trademark. They have been outscored by 22 goals in the first period this season, tied for the worst figure in the NHL. They allowed the first goal Thursday for the ninth straight game and the 18th time in the last 20 games.
The Flyers got to within 2-1 on Laughton’s shorthanded breakaway with 12:46 left in the second. It was the Flyers’ first shorthanded score of the season, and it ended Laughton’s 25-game goal-less streak.
“It would have been nice to put one when we were fighting for a playoff spot,” Laughton said.
Just 1:46 after Laughton scored, Jesper Boqvist made it 3-1 – the 16th time this season the Flyers allowed a goal within two minutes after they had scored.
In other words, there have been too many times this season where they didn’t build momentum after scoring.
Sean Couturier (15th goal) got the Flyers to within 3-2 as he tapped in a perfectly placed pass from defenseman Justin Braun with 7:43 to go in the second. Jake Voracek also had an assist, extending his point streak to five games.
The Flyers’ offense dried up late in the season. They have averaged 2.2 goals over their last 22 games.
“Most of our five-on-five opportunities have come from Coots’ line,” Vigneault said. “We need others to contribute more.”