Following the regular-season finale, the Philadelphia Flyers address the media regarding their performance and upcoming offseason.
Following a victory against the New Jersey Devils, capping a troublesome 2020-2021 season, the Philadelphia Flyers reflected on their performance. Finishing sixth in the Mass Mutual Eastern Division is an underachievement. Before the first game of the season, many had the Flyers penned as a fringe playoff team.
The Forwards underperformed, which often prevented Philadelphia jumping out to and sustaining a lead. But when the Flyers did score, they gave up a lead within two minutes many times. Seven times, Philadelphia lost by a deficit of five goals. No team will keep up with opponents who score five or more goals in seventeen games. That statistic calls out the defense.
Defensively, the Flyers were hopeless. Philadelphia missed Matt Niskanen. Many are tired of that mention, but it’s undeniably true. Erik Gustafsson, acquired before the season, was the worst acquisition to join the Flyers.
Without any help, goaltending suffers. Brian Elliott officially was the starting goaltender when the season was said and done, which isn’t the role he expected.
Most of this hockey season featured the unexpected.
Health and Pandemic Hockey
Sean Couturier, the reigning Frank J. Selke Trophy winner, didn’t live up to those award-winning expectations. He didn’t have a bad season, just a noticeable drop-off from a season ago. While he walked away with the Gene Hart Memorial Trophy and the Bobby Clarke Trophy, there is room for Couturier to improve.
Overall, the Philadelphia Flyers didn’t handle their first new season of pandemic era hockey well. It’s a challenge that every team in the league had to face, but the Flyers stumbled through the season. Once the pandemic caught the roster, Philadelphia never recovered. Lake Tahoe became the darkest hour in 2020-2021.
Before being dismantled by the Boston Bruins in Lake Tahoe, many Flyers players couldn’t participate due to COVID protocol. In other stages of the season, vital role players were recovering from injuries. Health was a factor in the downtick of player performance. Couturier suffered a costochondral separation, missing two weeks. He recovered, but it’s tougher to make a full recovery in a condensed season.
“It might have been a little tougher because the COVID hit us, but we needed to be better, and we weren’t good enough.”Sean Couturier; 5/11/21
Batting through injuries and pandemic is the current reality of the NHL. Philadelphia wasn’t good enough, facing the same adversity as the other teams.
Mentally, the pandemic is a brutal battle, but it’s up to the locker room and the front office to buy into each other and overcome certain obstacles.
Goaltending Struggles and the Importance of a Routine
No expert could have predicted that Carter Hart would struggle this season. His decline especially surprised the Philadelphia Flyers. Chuck Fletcher didn’t sign Brian Elliott to a one-year extension to act as a starting goaltender. Essentially, that’s how the season turned out for Elliott. He could likely extend his NHL career into 2021-2022.
Goaltending is one of the most strenuous positions in any sport due to the mental aspect. Hart continues to face adversity throughout his NHL career. In his rookie season, the Flyers cycled through eight goaltenders. Now, the pandemic has played a part in his development through his second and third years.
Elliott knows the growing pains. He faced those early in his career. Sometimes, the only way to figure out a solution is for the younger goaltenders to go through the same growing pains.
“You really have to go through those experiences yourself and learn how to handle in your own way.”Brian Elliott; 5/11/21
Alex Lyon made surprising strides during the pandemic. Earning a victory in the process, Lyon improved as he continued to play.
Mentally, these young goaltenders are continuing to grow during a strange era of hockey. The offseason has officially started for Philadelphia, allowing a much-needed reset and reroute for the goaltending group.
The Flyers need to repair their defense
Where does anyone start with the Philadelphia Flyers defense?
Matt Niskanen retired, and the void left behind wasn’t addressed. During the 2019-2020 season, the defense was stable. Volatile doesn’t express the defensive unit in 2020-2021. There wasn’t enough consistency to believe they could be effective through the season. Defensively, the Flyers entered a freefall, notably beginning in March.
“You end up in that situation where you are switching partners a lot because you’re not playing well enough with the guy you have or just not having that chemistry.”Justin Braun; 5/11/21
All of the core defensemen took many steps back. It’s not just a single signing that didn’t work out. Philadelphia, as a franchise, took too long to figure out different solutions on defense. Next season will be crucial in the development of young players like Cam York and Egor Zamula.
The Seattle Kraken could potentially draft a defenseman from the Flyers, which isn’t ideal. Regardless, Chuck Fletcher must assess the free agency pool and sign a proper player to aid the defense.
The year may have been ugly, but this offseason will being us plenty of intrigue and some surprises along the way.
Photo Credit: Alex McIntyre