Flyers
Travis Zajac and the Devils outmuscled the Flyers in a 4-3 victory that wasn’t as close as the scoreboard indicates. (Eric Hartline/USA Today Sports)

So close, but yet so far yet again. The potential turning point does not come to pass (again), as Philadelphia Flyers lose, 4-3, to the New Jersey Devils. A regulation loss to one of the bottom teams in the standings has the Flyers reeling once again as the 2021 season falls farther down the pits of dismay, late comeback attempt be damned.

No doubt about it, the Devils had the jump to start this game. New Jersey came into this one with four of five, so it wasn’t a surprise to see them skating well. It also wasn’t a shock to see the Flyers struggling, even coming off one of their best performances of the year 24 hours ago. That right there says a lot about their team. The Devils drew a penalty thirty seconds in, took the game’s first five shots, and struck first. The Flyers were playing with fire throughout the first ten minutes, and finally got burnt on a 2-on-1. Michael McLeod took the pass on his forehand and deked against the grain to his backhand, burying his 4th NHL goal and second against the Flyers this year.

Philadelphia got right back in it just a few minutes later, with Joel Farabee burying Sean Couturier’s shot-pass rebound in the crease. For a bit, it looked like the Flyers might just escape a period where they posted an ugly 25% Corsi and 16.85% xGF at 5-on-5. Or in simpler terms, a period where they had one shot on goal through twelve minutes. But Kyle Palmieri was left alone with just 5.9 seconds left in the frame and blasted in a one-timer on the power-play. It just felt like an absolute dagger at the moment, giving the Devils a well-deserved lead at the first intermission.

The Flyers frustrating “one step forward, one step back” season couldn’t be captured better than it was on the Devils’ next goal. Just seconds after Phil Myers made a great play to block a 2-on-1, a reverse attempt along the boards resulted in a turnover. Doomed by a lack of outlet options and communication, the mistake became a worst-case scenario. Yegor Sharangovich ripped in a one-timer from the slot on Travis Zajac’s below the goal-line feed. Speaking of Zajac, if the Palmieri goal felt like a dagger, there’s no doubt his last-minute tap-in on a Ty Smith feed was one.

To be honest, this might be the most frustrating loss of the season for me, especially considering the valiant comeback in the waning minutes of the third. Yes, even more than that one. I really thought last night might be the night where things started turning around for the better, if for no other reason than I saw it as their last chance. With just ten games remaining until the trade deadline and just twenty-five left until the end of the regular season, you can’t lose this game. You can’t be outplayed by the second-worst team in your division. You can’t give up three-plus goals for the twelfth time in your last thirteen. Especially when two of them come in the last minute of a period. It’s just not good enough, a sentence that seems likely to be the legacy of the 2021 Flyers.

At this point, it feels like I’m running out of words to say the exact same thing. It’s so disappointing to see where they are right now, especially compared to the promise this season had at the beginning. It’s a really tough feeling for every single Flyers fan right now. I was so hopeful that I would get to share an extended playoff run with my friends back home with the playoffs set to start just before our freshman year of college ends, especially after last year’s promising season was ripped out of our hands along with so many other would-be signature senior year moments. If not for this article, that thought would almost be certain to die in my thoughts. Calling that a tough pill to swallow is definitely an understatement.

This season has been a sobering reminder of the unpredictability and uncertainty of sports, especially one as random as hockey. The number one seed in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs has only about a 25% chance to even return to them this year. Those odds have trended like GameStop’s stock; a steady increase in late January/early February giving way to a massive crash since; a return back to the dark days of the previous regime. At least most of the losing under Ron Hextall’s watch had a purpose. This latest subpar string raises not only short-term disappointment but serious long-term questions about the ceiling of the current core.

But that short-term disappointment is more than enough to handle right now. I know it’s the second half of a back-to-back, but despite the shiny early record, it’s not like this team was playing very well before COVID suspended their season for a week-and-a-half. Sorry, but the schedule doesn’t excuse this absolute dud. Not one thing does. It’s the culmination of a combination of sloppy mistakes and poor decisions, which is what makes recovering from it so daunting.

The Flyers are a total mess right now, and no one knows how to fix it. It’s an absolutely devastating state for an organization that finally got their swagger back last season. Now it’s just pure heartache, heartbreak, all over town. And I’m not sure there’s a switch in the world to flip to turn it around. At least not within the next two months.

Lindies

For the first time all season, the Flyers (15-12-4) have lost more games than they won. If nothing else, that stat seems like a sign there’s no turning back on this tailspin.

This is the first time all season the Flyers have used the same lineup of skaters in consecutive games since their very first two games of the year, per The Inquirer’s Sam Carchidi. What a crazy year it’s been.

Drinking game: take a shot for every game I’ve said Carter Hart played better than the number suggest. None of the goals tonight were his fault, but the Flyers really could’ve used him to steal this one. It’s something Hart really hasn’t done all season, another reason why the Flyers are currently on the outside looking in.

The Flyers, who had the best home record in the Eastern Conference last season, have not won a home game in regulation since fans returned on March 7. Their lone victory in front of their fans was a shootout win against the Sabres. Convincing, I know.

Travas Zajac’s goal was his 199th in the NHL; he came dangerously close to picking up #200 early in the third.

Alain Vigneault switched up his lines in the third period, which produced two late goals by Sean Couturier (one of which came with the goalie pulled) and sixteen shots on the net. The Flyers tested MacKenzie Blackwood just 17 times in the first 40 minutes.

Chuck Fletcher will be holding a press conference with the media tomorrow at 1 P.M. I’m sure that will be fun. I’ll update on Thursday’s recap if Fletcher says anything particularly noteworthy.

I can’t resist not giving at least an inkling of hope before wrapping this up. In their last 25 games of 2019-20, the Flyers went 18-6-1, tied with the Bruins and Avalanche for first in the NHL in points and points percentage. Do that again and you’re looking at 70 points and likely a playoff spot. Of course, that shows just how good the Flyers have to be just to make it to the playoffs. But at least it’s possible. The 2021 Flyers may not be like last year’s team so far, but time isn’t up yet. I just hope this team starts playing like they’ve truly got a shot before the last half of the third.

3 Stars

3rd: Sean Couturier (PHI) – 2 Goals (7, 8)

2nd: Travis Zajac (NJ) – Goal (4), Assist (10)

1st: Yegor Sharangovich (NJ) – Goal (7), Assist (5), 4 Shots

Next

NJ – 3/25, 7 PM @ WSH (20-7-4, L1)

PHI – 3/25, 7 PM vs. NYR (14-13-4, W2)

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Advanced Stats via Natural Stat Trick