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What we learned from the Flyers’ four game series against the Devils

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Some observations for your [afternoon]...

New Jersey Devils v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

Well, we made it, folks! The Flyers wrapped up their four-game series against the Devils last night, dropping three of those games in the process, but we sure all did make it through, which is probably the biggest win in and of itself. It was not the prettiest run of games for the Flyers, nor the most fun, and we’re pretty eager to erase them all from our collective memories, if we’re honest. But before we do, let’s dig into some takeaways, shall we? (Just say yes.)

All stats via Natural Stat Trick.

Three numbers of note

55.69 CF% at 5-on-5

Do we all really want to hear this? Let’s get through it quickly so we can get on with being grumpy. Anyway. The Flyers, despite the outcomes, did grade out quite well by the underlying numbers in this series against the Devils. We’ve seen them struggle to drive play consistently throughout the season, but the numbers for this stretch (yes, it’s still a small sample) were pretty solid. The Flyers spent the bulk of these four games holding a pretty comfortable edge in possession, and came out of this one with an adjusted 55.69 CF%, 54.79 SF%, and 59.10 xGF%.

Of course, this all probably doesn’t bring us a whole lot of solace in the face of these three pretty brutal losses. Process certainly matters, and we want it to be sound, but it’s also true that these are what the numbers should be looking like against a team like the Devils, and yet even over a longer series like this one, the Flyers still couldn’t turn them into the strong enough results needed to come out of this with more than just a win in a shootout.

4 goals against on the penalty kill

Where the results did pretty well match the process, though, was on the penalty kill. The Flyers, in total, spent 20:37 on the penalty kill over these four games, and really struggled though, well, most of that time. They gave up 25 shot attempts, 15 scoring chances, and five high danger chances, giving the Devils a whole lot to work with. And, of course, there were the four goals given up (two on Tuesday and two on Thursday), to boot, as the Flyers continued to fall into old bad habits of standing around and breaking down and just letting their opponent dictate play and run right through them.

It’s been an ongoing issue for the team for just about the whole of the season, we know this already, but all of this feels much worse when you consider that these were results put up against one of the worst power plays in the league. The Devils have not found a lot of success on the power play this season—even with the boost from those four goals, they’re still ranked 28th in the league—but they really made it look easy quite often against the Flyers. Things are, in short, pretty bleak around here.

3 goals for Claude Giroux

It’s Claude Giroux Appreciation Post time, folks! Giroux brought quite a bit of solid play to this series, where it was really lacking from, well, a lot of the rest of the lineup. He personally accounted for three of the Flyers’ 12 goals scored (a cool 25 percent) over these four games, and pretty singlehandedly drug the team out of the hole they dug themselves in Sunday’s game, ultimately tying things and forcing overtime (and, we remember, they picked up a win in the shootout, and it was their only one of the series). His underlying numbers were solid as well, as he averaged a 64.34 CF% and 68.53 xGF% at 5-on-5 over these last four games.

And of course, with his two goals scored on Sunday, Giroux passed Brian Propp and moved into third place on the list of Flyers all-time top scorers, and it’s pretty hard to overstate how impressive that is. Giroux had a solid series, on top of a solid season, on top of what’s obviously been a tremendously impressive career. There’s not much more to say that hasn’t been said already earlier in the week, but we’re continuing to get a whole lot of good out of Giroux, and that remains a delight.

Two loose observations

Egor Zamula’s solid debut

If we’re looking to find another positive from this doom and gloom stretch, at the top of the list would likely be Zamula making his NHL debut, and looking pretty solid in it. Zamula was given a not insignificant workload right off the bat, averaging just over 17 minutes a night, and really ran with that chance. His game was pretty quiet, but that seemed for the best, and he still picked up a handful of shots (five), flexed some nice passing and playmaking moments, and was able to hang pretty well defensively, and all of that was really encouraging to see. He didn’t pick up his first point just yet, but we’ll refrain from being too fussed about that.

Now, we don’t want to go too crazy over two good games. We do know that Zamula really needs to put on some weight and get stronger if he wants to hang for a longer period of time at the NHL level, and have also seen some finer points of his game that he’s still working out at the AHL level. We’re not penciling him in to the opening night lineup for next season just yet, but this bit of flash he’s brought has certainly been encouraging, and we’ll take any positivity that we can get, at this point.

Sleepy showings continue

We’ve alluded to this already, but it’s worth swinging back around to underscore that while the Flyers did put up decent underling numbers in this series, and did have some stretches when they looked really dominant, what outweighed those were the stretches when they looked listless, and pretty well asleep behind the wheel, that that trend has just continued even when the stakes of the season have lowered. We’re not expecting complete, unrelenting dominance for the entirety of the game, but the ask for just a moderate level of energy and engagement throughout shouldn’t be as considerable as it’s looked.

And it’s hard to say just what we’re to do with that, as we’ve been seeing this happen all season. The Flyers, on paper and still in the standings, at least, are a much better team than the Devils, and yet they just couldn’t seem to get past them. The Flyers have made a point of saying in recent weeks (and again last night) that this isn’t an issue of players quitting and mailing it in, but still the jump from the team as a whole just isn’t there. And we could talk about finding ways to muster confidence or resilience or whatever other similar buzz word you want to pull out of a hat, but at some point something needs to shake loose and results need to come. And maybe that doesn’t happen this season, but it certainly makes Chuck Fletcher’s job more interesting this off-season, trying to find a way to manufacture that.

The big picture

We’re in the home stretch, gang. With Thursday’s loss, the Flyers were officially eliminated from playoff contention, so the season that has been effectively over for a while now, is pretty finally over. This last stretch here has been a bit of a slog, there’s really no other way to put it—the team’s not playing well, the energy isn’t there with consistency, and the on-ice product is really suffering for it, and it’s just been hard to watch.

And there are certainly some concerning trends that we’re continuing to see. Certainly, there’s an element of just normal human empathy that’s worth bringing to this, and it’s fair to acknowledge that when it feels like everything is going wrong for you, it’s not easy to shake off the funk that drags you into. But the fact remains that the list of Flyers that we can say have been playing quite well is a short one, and as we head into what should be an active off-season, it means the list of players who look like they’ve successfully played to keep their jobs is a short one, too. The Flyers have just five more games left to close out the season, and there really is quite a bit more that we’d like to see from the team in them, if only for their own sakes.