The end of this underachieving season can’t come fast enough for the Flyers.
At least that’s what the Flyers said by the way they played Tuesday in a sleepy 6-1 loss in Washington, especially during a first period in which they fell into a 4-1 deficit, were outshot by a 19-9 margin, and gave the physical Capitals an inordinate amount of time and space with the puck.
There was no pushback. No emotion. No answers to the Caps’ power play, which scored twice in the first period and was 3-for-3 on the night.
Stunningly, Team Enigma has lost by five or more goals seven times this season.
Their defense and goaltending have been shaky all season, but their offense bailed them out. The Flyers averaged 3.3 goals over their first 28 games.
But the offense has dried up, averaging a paltry 2.2 goals of their last 14 games. They have four wins in that span.
“We certainly had much higher expectations than how we’ve played this year,” said general manager Chuck Fletcher, who has put together a team that has no identity and lacks speed, size, and a game-changing player.
Maybe age has caught up with some of their players. Maybe some are feeling the aftereffects of the coronavirus. At one point in February, six Flyers regulars were sidelined by the COVID-19 protocols.
In any event, here are some Flyers forwards and their head-scratching slumps:
Scott Laughton has no goals in his last 18 games.
James van Riemsdyk, the veteran left winger who was off to the best start of his career and still tops the Flyers with 34 points, has no goals in his last 16 games, during which he is minus-9.
Joel Farabee, who leads the team with 15 goals, has scored once in the last 11 games and is minus-5 in that span.
Kevin Hayes has two goals and is minus-6 in his last 19 games.
Travis Konecny, who has shown some encouraging signs recently, has two goals over his last 18 games.
Oskar Lindblom and Nolan Patrick, forwards who battled well-documented medical issues last season and were expected to take a while to get back to form, have had difficulty bouncing back. Patrick has three points in his last 34 games and one goal in his last 16, while Lindblom has one goal in his last 10 games.
Claude Giroux has no goals and a minus-5 rating in his last six games.
And so, here the Flyers are, six points out of a playoff spot — it could be 10 points if Boston wins its two games in hand — with 14 games left. Those 14 games might be better served if several prospects received playing time and got a head start on next season.
Coach Alain Vigneault was asked about playing more young players, like winger Wade Allison, among others. He danced around the question, saying his focus was on getting the team to rebound from a disastrous stretch.
“Obviously, I think we’re going to find a lot about this group in the next coming [weeks] here,” he said. “We’re not in the position we anticipated to be, but at the end of the day, we all still have our jobs to do and we have to do it. We’re all going to focus on that.”
This isn’t how the Flyers’ final three-plus weeks of the season were supposed to finish. They were supposed to be filled with drama and intriguing matchups as the Flyers jockeyed for an East Division playoff spot in games against division-only rivals.
At the start of March, the Flyers’ point percentage (.694) was better than the Capitals, better than the Islanders, better than the Penguins and Bruins.
Better, in fact, than every team in the East.
Since then, however, they have won just eight of 24 games (8-13-3), a shocking fall for a team that had so much promise before their season was paused because of COVID-19 in February.
The team has never looked the same since.
Playing out the schedule
That makes Thursday’s game in Pittsburgh rather moot for the Flyers. The Penguins (27-13-2), with Ron Hextall as their general manager and former Flyer Jeff Carter about to make his Pittsburgh debut, are sizzling. They are 16-5-1 since the start of March and are four points out of first in the East, while the Flyers (19-17-6) have dropped to sixth place and are closer to seventh-place New Jersey than they are to the third-place Penguins.
“No matter what, you should be prepared every game,” said center Sean Couturier. “It’s part of being a pro. It’s not going to be different. I hope everyone knows that.”
With seven losses (seven!) by at least five goals, it’s fair to say they need another reminder.