After splitting their last two games of the year against the New York Rangers, the Philadelphia Flyers need to get on a roll if they want to keep their faint playoff hopes alive.
With just nine games left in their regular season, the Flyers sit 11 points behind the Boston Bruins, who hold down the last playoff spot in the East Division. The Bruins have built some breathing room by going 6-1-0 since the trade deadline, and still hold one game in hand over Philadelphia.
Over the same span, the Flyers have gone 2-3-1, falling seven points further behind. Inconsistency continues to plague the group, which hasn’t strung together back-to-back wins since late March and struggles to deliver a 60-minute effort within individual games.
But Philadelphia has a chance to re-write the script this week, with four straight games against New Jersey.
The Devils went down swinging when they scored five third-period goals in their 7-6 loss to Pittsburgh on Tuesday, which officially eliminated them from postseason contention. But a third-straight loss to the Penguins on Saturday stretched their current losing streak to nine games. Since beating the Flyers 4-3 a month ago, on March 23, they’ve gone 2-13-2, collecting just six points.
Games in Newark on Tuesday and Thursday are bookended by a pair at Wells Fargo Centre — this Sunday at 6 p.m. ET, then next Saturday at 7 p.m.
Will Hart Return?
Missing Carter Hart for the last four games due to what’s said to be a mild knee sprain, Alain Vigneault couldn’t tell the media whether or not the 22-year-old is ready to get back into the goaltending mix.
Alain Vigneault not sure if Carter Hart will be available to play Sunday vs. the Devils: "I haven't checked on what's going on at home so I can't answer that question for you."
— Adam Kimelman (@NHLAdamK) April 24, 2021
Hart was good in his last start on April 15, making 31 saves as the Flyers down the Penguins 2-1 in a shootout.
While Hart has been on the shelf, Brian Elliott and Alex Lyon have shared the load.
Making his first two NHL starts since Feb. 1, 2020, 28-year-old Lyon went 0-2-0, giving up five goals against the Washington Capitals and four against the Rangers.
Elliott fared better, collecting three of a possible four points with a 1-0-1 record. He gave up just a single goal, in overtime, against the Islanders last Sunday. On Thursday, he held the Rangers to one goal in the first 58 minutes of the game, setting the stage for a Philadelphia comeback win.
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The Flyers’ defensive woes during the month of March are no secret. The team gave up a league-worst 4.41 goals per game.
At 3.08 goals against per game in April, the Flyers are tied for 19th best — not great, but certainly an improvement. And it’s actually New Jersey that has struggled the most defensively, giving up 4.62 goals a game in April.
Now, the Flyers are at the bottom of the league at the other end of the ice. With just 24 goals in 12 games this month, Philadelphia’s 2.00 goals scored has them tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets for last place in that category.
Travis Konecny and Jakub Voracek are leading the way offensively in April, with eight points each, and Voracek leads the team with four goals. Sean Couturier, James van Riemsdyk, Claude Giroux and Ivan Provorov each have six points, and Shayne Gostisbehere has five, including three goals.
From there, offensive production falls off a cliff.
New contract or not, Scott Laughton’s last point came on March 20. Nolan Patrick has just one assist in April, and only eight points for the year. He was healthy-scratched on Friday to make room in the lineup for newly signed college free agent Jackson Cates.
After a red-hot start to the season, Joel Farabee has just one goal and three assists in his last 15 games. And what has happened to Kevin Hayes — the seven-million-dollar man who came through in the clutch with five game-winning goals last season? This year, he has been invisible for long stretches. In April, he has no goals and three assists.
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Cates didn’t hit the scoresheet in his NHL debut on Friday. Known as a solid two-way player during his three years at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, where he won an NCAA championship in 2019, Cates did record three shots on goal. He also went 5-for-8 in the faceoff circle as he centered Oskar Lindblom and Nicolas Aube-Kubel on Philadelphia’s fourth line.
Now a grizzled veteran with five NHL games under his belt, Wade Allison continues to play an energetic game. His only point was a goal against Washington a week ago, but he has earned Vigneault’s trust. On Friday, he started on the Flyers’ second line, with Farabee and Hayes.
In Lehigh Valley, the club has more tantalizing young talent stashed away. Tyson Foerster and Zayde Wisdom will now play out the year in the AHL, after the Ontario Hockey League officially cancelled its season earlier in the week. And fresh college signing Cam York is looking for his first pro point, playing in his third game with the Phantoms on Saturday night.
Transfer rules limit the number of call-ups that an NHL team can make after the trade deadline. But if the past couple of weeks are any indication, Vigneault is going to use every opportunity that’s available to him to assess his prospects as the regular season winds down.