Alain Vigneault said he didn’t want to talk about his team’s elimination from playoff contention.
But he didn’t have to.
His facial expression said it for him.
Clearly, the Flyers coach was disappointed and frustrated with his team’s underachieving season, which culminated with official banishment from 2021 Stanley Cup playoff consideration on Thursday night.
His dour countenance revealed his emotions.
With a 5-3 loss to the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., combined with Boston’s 5-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres, the Flyers assured themselves of an early start to summer on May 11.
Actually, this development was pretty much a fait accompli. The Flyers’ hopes had been hanging by a thread since the end of a disastrous March, which saw a promising start to the season turn into a 6-10-1 disaster.
Lack of scoring, disorganized defense and sub-par goaltending all conspired to ensure the Flyers once more wouldn’t put back-to-back playoff seasons together again, a streak of futility dating back to 2012.
You really can’t blame it on the coaches during that drought. Ex-Flyer helmsmen Peter Laviolette and Craig Berube have won a Stanley Cup and Vigneault has been to a pair of Cup Finals.
Vigneault begged off any evaluation of his team until after the season is over. There are only six games left to play, so fans and media will just have to be patient for about another 11 days.
“I think, let’s get through the season here and we’ll be able to analyze what happened in more depth,’’ said Vigneault, who watched one of his teams miss the playoffs for only the fifth time in 17 seasons and just the third time since 2000.
Scott Laughton said the Flyers’ unexpected swoon in the season’s second half caught him off-guard.
“It was definitely not the way we saw this season going,’’ he said. “(We) had very high expectations. It just didn’t happen. Some nights we worked, some nights we worked hard and not smart.’’
To lose two straight to a Devils team which had gone winless in its previous 10 games had to have added a little extra sting to it.
“It’s frustrating,’’ Laughton said. “It seemed like we couldn’t get anything going, it seems like we chased the game a lot. It’s a hard league to come back in. It’s definitely disappointing, you want to be better.’’
The nature of this game typified the downward turn on the second half of the season.
Philadelphia allowed an opponent to score first for the ninth straight game and 18 of the last 20. And once again, the Flyers allowed the Devils to score a pair of early power-play goals to put them behind the eight-ball.
“Giving any team three power plays in the first period makes it challenging on your team,’’ Vigneault said. “Our penalty killing (30th in the NHL), as we know, has been off. The other team has been able to capitalize.’’
To make matters worse, the Devils scored their fourth goal just after another Flyer penalty had ended.
So now all the Flyers can do is play out the string, with the only motivation being they will be playing division leaders Pittsburgh and Washington and possibly take on a spoilers’ role.
The Flyers had very little practice time after the COVID break in February, so that might have had something to with the second-half struggles. There was not much time to fix mistakes.
“I can’t use that an excuse but it’s been a tough year for us,’’ Laughton said. “Everyone’s been kind of battling this year. It’s been a difficult year for us – we got hit by COVID, that’s not an excuse either but there was a condensed schedule and we couldn’t get on track after that.’’
>Penalty killing problem
When a team gives up as many power-play goals as the Flyers have, they can’t be all bad bounces.
“We’re trying to work some of our young personnel in,’’ Vigneault said. “It’s been a learning experience. Last year we had a couple more veteran players there (including defenseman Matt Niskanen, who retired, as well as forward Tyler Pitlick).’’
So new players were brought in on the kill, such as defenseman Phil Myers.
“He never killed (penalties) before,’’ Vigneault said. “Using new personnel made penalty killing a little more challenging.’’
>No comments from Giroux
Captain Claude Giroux was requested by the media to take part in post-game media Zoom call interviews but either declined or was not made available to do so.
As spokesperson for the team, he has an obligation to comment on what amounted to a season-defining game. No official explanation was offered for his absence.
>Laughton ends two droughts
Laughton’s shorthanded goal in the second period to cut New Jersey’s lead to 2-1 ended a pair of long skids.
He halted a 25-game goal-less stretch and it was also the Flyers’ first shorthanded goal of the season. Detroit is now the only NHL team without a shorthanded goal.
Vigneault gave rookie defenseman Egor Zamula a positive review for his first two NHL games. . .The Flyers fell behind on a pair of Yegor Sharangovich power-play goals, then allowed a third after the Laughton tally. . .Goalie Alex Lyon was pressed into service after the Flyers shut down Carter Hart (MCL sprain) for the rest of the season.
Jake Voracek and Sean Couturier each extended their scoring streaks to five games. Voracek had two assists and now has a goal and six assists for seven points in his streak. Couturier scored a goal and now has three goals and two assists for five points in his run. It’s Couturier’s fourth scoring streak of five or more games this season.