Flyers 3 Stars of the Month – March 2021

For the Philadelphia Flyers, March 2021 may have been the worst month in franchise history. The team went 6-10-1 over a horrific 17-game span, setting a franchise record for most goals allowed in a single month in the process. One team that played a huge part in helping them achieve their historically awful month was the New York Rangers who scored 23 times in four meetings, handing them 9-0 and 8-3 losses along the way. The former was the team’s worst loss since October 27, 1981, when they lost 11-2 to Guy Lafleur’s Montreal Canadiens.

Brian Elliott Philadelphia Flyers
Brian Elliott, Philadelphia Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Flyers entered March in a playoff spot, only three points out of first place in the MassMutual East Division. Sure, the team had issues and weren’t playing as well as expected, but there was reason to believe that they could turn things around and maybe bring in some help before the trade deadline to push them to contender status. Unfortunately, everything that could have gone wrong did.

The forwards looked sluggish and struggled to win foot-races, the defence couldn’t break up zone entries and bled dangerous scoring chances, and the goaltenders seemed to have lost their confidence. Now, having exited the month, the Flyers find themselves on the outside looking in with the playoffs seeming like an unlikely pipe-dream.

But even as bad as the Flyers were, they couldn’t have been worse than the Buffalo Sabres who rode out an 18-game losing streak, tied for the longest in NHL history, right? Well…the icing on the cake is that the Flyers closed out the month with an especially embarrassing 6-1 defeat at the hands of the aforementioned Sabres.

When a team plays as poorly as the Flyers have, it’s difficult to find bright spots. But even with the team collapsing around them, there were a few players who managed to shine.

3. Justin Braun

Justin Braun earns the honour of the third star of the month in March for being the only defender who didn’t make me panic when he stepped onto the ice. While he didn’t play like a prime Chris Pronger or anything of the sort, he was reliable and stuck to his game, not letting the pressure of the season slipping away get to him. He was counted on to slide up and down the defensive pairings, spending time with nearly every other Flyers defender, providing stability to a young defence corps that has experienced significant regression.

Braun finally seems to have found a semi-permanent home on the team’s top pairing alongside Ivan Provorov. The duo played together in parts of all 17 March games, spending 142:49 together at 5v5. In a month where the team’s defence took a beating, the two of them managed to keep a positive Corsi for percentage (CF%) and had a positive expected goals rate (xGF%) when the team was negative without them.

Justin Braun Philadelphia Flyers Brock Nelson New York Islanders
Justin Braun, Philadelphia Flyers and Brock Nelson, New York Islanders (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

What makes Braun’s season extra interesting is that he likely wouldn’t have been re-signed if not for the early retirement of Matt Niskanen. With a lack of options available, general manager Chuck Fletcher extended Braun only hours after the defender’s departure. Braun hasn’t fully filled the hole that Niskanen left, but he’s completely exceeded expectations. With that being said, he shouldn’t be a permanent top-pairing option and the Flyers will be searching for someone to push him down the lineup, where he is best-suited, once the offseason rolls around.

2. Claude Giroux

It’s been a tough season for Claude Giroux. He struggled to find the back of the net early on, suffered from COVID-19, and took a lot of criticism as the leader of an underachieving team. In a month where everything from coaching to leadership was being called into question, he continued to play hard, attempting to breathe life into a floundering Flyers team.

The Flyers’ captain entered the month of March with just one goal on the season, scored against the New Jersey Devils back in late January. While Giroux has never been a sniper, the lack of scoring was a cause for concern. He bounced back, however, putting the puck in the net eight times this past month. His performance was highlighted by a two-goal, three-point game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the start of the month where he looked phenomenal, almost single-handedly willing his team to victory.

While the team around him is struggling to stay afloat, Giroux has kept a level head and is leading by example. He was the team’s top scorer at even strength through March and has done an excellent job of weaseling his way into the slot, generating high danger scoring chances and creating rebounds for his linemates.

Not only has he done a fantastic job offensively, but his two-way game has been immaculate, and if not for the state of his team, I believe he’d be a frontrunner for the Selke Trophy this season. Giroux does it all for his team: winning key faceoffs, killing penalties, contributing to the power play, and dominating his competition at even strength. Without him, this season would be a lot tougher to watch.

1. The Fans

Yes, you read that right…you, the fans, are the first stars of the month. For nearly a decade, this Flyers team has been stocking the cupboards, building a deep prospect pool, and preparing for a future that seemed so bright. Last season, it looked like they were finally there. The team’s top prospects had graduated to the NHL and were thriving, the Flyers were fast, fun, and outplaying their competition, and fans of the team felt like they were on top of the world.

It seemed like the Flyers had finally reached the light at the end of the tunnel, only for it to be yanked away from them this season. The 2020-21 campaign has been full of ups and downs and has oftentimes been quite difficult to watch. All of the young players seem to have regressed, head coach Alain Vigneault has had difficulty finding lines with chemistry, and Fletcher has taken a cautious approach to the trade market. This all reached its peak in a disastrous month of March that saw the team get outplayed by their opponents on almost a nightly basis.

Philadelphia Flyers' Claude Giroux
Philadelphia Flyers’ Claude Giroux and teammates salute the fans (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

Nobody expected this type of down year for this group, but through thick and thin, the Flyers faithful have persevered and have put their passion on display. Despite the rough season, TV ratings for Flyers games have been excellent, showing that the fans aren’t ready to give up on the team. Now, with a limited number of fans allowed back in the Wells Fargo Center, it’s refreshing to hear the team’s supporters make their presence known. No other fanbase in the league is more vocal than Flyers fans, who cheer their loudest when the team plays well, but aren’t afraid to boo and make their displeasure known when the team isn’t playing up to par.

Flyers supporters have stuck by the team when things have been difficult, and for that they should be very proud. It will makes things much more rewarding when the team finally plays up to their potential, be it later this season or in the future.

Players to Watch in April

The Flyers are back on their grind in April, set to play 15 games over 30 days. The next few games will shape the remainder of their season and can put the team back into the postseason picture, or push it out of reach. It won’t be an easy month and will certainly be an uphill climb as the Flyers will look to redeem themselves against teams such as the Boston Bruins and Rangers who have handed them big losses earlier this season. As the Flyers make their push for the postseason, two players to keep an eye on are Carter Hart and Giroux.

Hart took a week away from the team to rebuild his confidence and get his A-game back. After a more than solid performance against the Islanders in the opening game of the month, it seems like he might be back in top form. Hopefully, the young netminder can build on this strong performance and prove his doubters wrong.

Giroux will be looking to build on his solid March performance as his team prepares to play their most important stretch of games this season. The Flyers’ captain will be heavily leaned upon by his team, and if the Flyers are going to turn their year around, they’ll need him to continue to be one of the team’s best players.