Just over a year ago, the Flyers were building a nine-game winning streak and trying to catch Washington for the Metropolitan Division title.
Then the pandemic hit and hockey was stopped cold in its tracks.
Although they performed pretty well when play resumed in mid-summer, the Flyers never regained that consistent form.
Not much has changed in the current shortened season.
As the Flyers took the ice for their 55th and penultimate game on Saturday night, their season-long inconsistency showed in the statistics.
Philadelphia had not won back-to-back games since March and had triumphed in consecutive home encounters since January.
In fact, aside from a four-game winning streak in late January and a three-gamer in late February, it’s been a pattern of win one, lose one (or more).
Veteran defenseman Justin Braun knows the Flyers’ youth and inexperience might have played into those numbers.
When Braun arrived at the beginning of the 2019-20 season with fellow veteran defenseman Matt Niskanen, their combined experience did a lot to settle things down.
But when Niskanen suddenly, surprisingly retired at season’s end, it sort of left Braun to handle that role. Erik Gustafsson was signed to help out with said mentorship but it didn’t work out and he was traded to Montreal at the deadline.
Braun says consistency should be a high priority with this team moving forward.
“When I came in there were a lot of young guys,’ Braun said during a pre-game media Zoom call from Capital One Arena in Washington. “Matt and I kind of helped stabilize that.
“Losing him was huge. Some guys have been up and down this year. I think one of the hardest parts is that consistent presence every game.’’
That doesn’t just go for the young guys, either.
“Even at this point in my career, it’s tough to do, night-in, night-out,’’ the 34-year-old Braun said. “But if you don’t have it, you want to minimize the mistakes as much as you can.
“You know these guys are still young, they have to kind of learn that consistency part. We have a lot of talent back there. They just have to put it all together next year.’’
One of those young backliners could very well be Cam York, who made his NHL debut in Friday night’s 4-2 win over the Caps. York was paired with Braun and didn’t look out of place, considering he was just playing hockey at the University of Michigan a couple months ago.
“I thought he looked good, poised with the puck,’’ Braun said. “Made the right plays on the breakouts, skated well through the neutral zone. For the first game, I thought he looked good.’’
Playing alongside Braun is almost like skating with a coach. York made that clear in his post-game comments on Friday night.
Braun wants to help any way he can.
“You want to support him as much as you can all over the ice,’’ Braun said. “Talk to him about plays when you get back to the bench. Just try to help him so he’s not thinking too much out there. If that’s what I’m asked to do, I’ll do it to the best of my ability.’’
>Expecting a tougher Capitals effort
Washington saw a five-game winning streak against the Flyers go down the drain on Friday night. No doubt the absence of Caps superstar Alex Ovechkin played into that.
With Washington battling Pittsburgh and Boston for the East Division title, Flyers coach Alain Vigneault was expecting a much more inspired effort from the Caps in the Saturday rematch.
“They’re fighting for playoff positioning,’’ Vigneault said. “I believe we have to expect a bigger push than they gave yesterday. They’re one of the best teams in the NHL, a lot of experience. In playoff hockey a lot of times, that home ice makes a lot of difference.’’
Kevin Hayes began Saturday night needing one point to reach the 300-point mark. . .York played 20:59 in his NHL debut. Per NHL Stats & Information, that is the second-highest time on ice for a Flyer in his NHL debut since tracking the stat began in 1997, ranking only behind Robert Hagg, who played 21:19 in his debut on April 9, 2017. York had one shot on goal, three total attempts, a takeaway and a blocked shot. . .Vigneault announced that Brian Elliott will start in goal for the Flyers’ final game of the season when the New Jersey Devils visit the Wells Fargo Center on Monday night.