While the Flyers fell short of their goal to make a serious run at the Stanley Cup this season, they can take some solace in knowing they made progress toward that ambition.
A Game 7 loss to the New York Islanders in the Eastern Conference semifinals showed Philadelphia just how much work there’s left to be done.
In a Friday morning press interview, Claude Giroux suggested the advances made this season, along with a lot of up-and-coming young players, should put the Flyers in good stead for the 2020-21 campaign.
“We took a huge step forward,’’ the team’s captain said. “We’re very disappointed that we couldn’t move on to the conference finals. We thought we had a team that was able to go further. It’s very disappointing.
“At the same time, we took a huge step forward from last year. We’ve got to keep moving forward and keep building on this. We love our team. We like the pieces we have. We’re all pretty excited for next year.’’
Giroux saw what everyone else did, namely the positive steps taken by youngsters such as goaltender Carter Hart, forwards Joel Farabee and Nicolas Aube-Kubel and defensemen Phil Myers and Travis Sanheim.
With a valuable year of experience under their belts, they should only be that much better when next season begins.
“We have a lot of young players, prospects that are knocking on the door,’’ Giroux said. “It’s obviously exciting in our organization. You look at Joel (Farabee), he played great. As the season went on he got better. We have a lot of young players (such as Morgan Frost, Connor Bunnaman, Carsen Twarynski) that are ready to make the jump and ready to come help us win some hockey games.’’
No doubt it was difficult to come up short in Game 7 against the Islanders. It’s been 10 years since Giroux made it to the Stanley Cup Final and now, at 32, the chances of going all the way would appear to be dwindling.
Goal scoring topped the list of shortcomings. The Flyers couldn’t generate any offense in the 4-0 Game 7 loss.
“Against the Islanders, I think early on in the series we played all right,’’ Giroux said. “We found a way to win one of those games. When we were down 3-1, I think Game 5 and Game 6, those were our best two games. We were strict in what they were doing. Everybody was playing hard and playing the right way. Obviously we won those games in overtime. At the same time, we battled hard to see that Game 7.’’
Coach Alain Vigneault made a few headlines recently when he went public with the notion the Flyers’ veteran players might have to rethink their offseason conditioning programs, perhaps as a concession to age.
Giroux didn’t sound particularly in sync with his coach’s sentiments.
“I haven’t talked to AV,’’ he said. “I’ve been with the Flyers for 13 years and I’ve been committed to this organization. Every offseason I think I do a great job to be a little better.
“When you get a little bit older, you always want to tweak the way you work out. That’s something that I might have to tweak one or two things. At the end of the day, I think every time camp starts, I’m in great shape. I expect the same here.’’
While the Flyers did win a playoff series for the first time since 2011-12, the fact remains they haven’t been to a conference final in those aforementioned 10 years. And it’s been one year on, one year off ever since.
Giroux was asked why the perception should be different now. What makes him think the Flyers won’t go backward next year, as has been their recent pattern?
“”I think the other years that we made the playoffs and we lost first round, we didn’t have the depth we have right now,’’ Giroux said. “ Right now we have older players and younger players. We just have a good mix of guys. Having Carter in net, and Moose (Brian Elliott), they give us a chance to win every night.
“We just like the mix that we have in the locker room. As the season went on, we kept getting better. We played more as a team and everybody was stepping up at the right time. As I said before, we’re extremely excited for next year, and we learned a lot from the Islanders series and even against Montreal Canadiens. We’ve just got to keep building here.’’
Giroux knows he will have to do his part. Scoring only one goal in 16 postseason games wasn’t good enough and he will be the first to tell you.
“Personally, it’s not a secret,’’ he said, “I would have liked to play better. I think as the playoffs went on, I was starting to feel a little bit better. It was a unique tournament that we had. You are off a couple months and then you go straight to playoffs. It was hard for everybody, but it just felt like it took me a little bit longer to kind of get going.’’