The Flyers played their last meaningful game on Friday. From here on out, there won’t even be a spoiler role for the boys. They put themselves in this position, thanks to a lousy March, to simply play out the string in late April and early May.
Alain Vigneault gave his club the day off Saturday. They’re in the midst of three games in four nights and it was the humane thing to do. The Flyers will start a stretch of four consecutive contests on Sunday against struggling New Jersey, the result of a reshuffled schedule because of COVID-19 postponements. The Flyers have never played the same opponent that often consecutively in the same season.
“It’s never happened to me before [either],” said Vigneault, in his 19th season as an NHL head coach. “All we can do is take it one game at a time ... "
Yeah, yeah. Muck it up in the corners, play the right way, don’t beat ourselves, and any other cliche’ that’s out there.
The most important development over these final nine games will be the return and subsequent play of goaltender Carter Hart.
Vigneault, following Friday’s game, was unsure when Hart would be back from the mild knee sprain he suffered April 15 in Pittsburgh. General manager Chuck Fletcher did not respond to a message on Saturday seeking an update.
Not that it matters, but they’ve gone 1-2-1 without Hart.
The Flyers have won two of the three previous meetings this season against New Jersey, which is similarly inconsequential as they’ve played just once since Jan. 28.
For the Flyers, these next four games could be treated as a playoff series. Eight points are at stake. Win six of them. Wake up the offense. Be less generous on the penalty-kill. And, gasp, string together a few wins.
The Flyers have won two in a row just once in the last two months. The last time they had consecutive wins in regulation was Feb. 24-28 when they won three in a row. This season can’t end fast enough.
New Jersey is even worse.
The Devils have lost nine in a row, all in regulation. MacKenzie Blackwood, the team’s No. 1 goalie, started Saturday afternoon’s game in Pittsburgh, which means the Flyers could see Scott Wedgewood on Sunday (6 p.m., NBCSP).
Even with all of the losing, New Jersey has a better record on the road (10-10-3) than the Flyers do at home (9-10-4). Talk about mediocrity.
“It’s gonna be an interesting week,” Scott Laughton said. “[Let’s] start it off on the right foot with the first game that we play them ... and try to follow it up with a couple of wins, and have some positivity around this group to build off something. So that’s what we’re trying to do.”
The Flyers have gone 13 games in a row without scoring more than three goals. For perspective, the last-place Sabres have scored more than three goals five times in their last 13; New Jersey four times in their last 13.
Those Flyers in the biggest funks over the last 13 games among forwards are Laughton, Kevin Hayes, and Nolan Patrick (0 goals). Joel Farabee has one. Claude Giroux, Travis Konecny, and Oskar Lindblom have two, with Konecny leading the way with six assists.
On the other hand, Jake Voracek (four goals, five assists) has scored nearly half of his season’s nine goals during the drought.
Good to see Vigneault pulling back on Ivan Provorov’s ice time now that the playoffs are out of reach. Provy played a season-low 20 minutes, 53 seconds on Friday after playing 22:18 on Thursday, his third-fewest minutes of the season. Sean Couturier, a forward, has led the Flyers in ice time the last two games.
Michael Raffl made his Capitals debut on Thursday and Erik Gustafsson played his first game for the Canadiens on Friday. Raffl, who last played on April 10, played 13:32. Gustafsson, who hadn’t been in a game since March 31, played just 7:12. Both players were acquired from the Flyers at the April 12 trade deadline.
Hate to make too much out of one game, but it was interesting to see that Charlie Coyle subbed in for injured Patrice Bergeron on Boston’s top line Friday night. Coyle was minus-2 and lost 11 of 19 faceoffs as the Sabres surprised the Bruins, 6-4.
Buffalo rookie defenseman and Voorhees native Mattias Samuelsson, son of Flyers player development coach Kjell Samuelsson, had a pair of assists for the first points of his NHL career.