The Flyers have always seemed to be the bizarro kings of NHL goaltending, and the 2018-19 season has only added to that dubious history.
The new lore? Well, that’d be the NHL-record eight goalies that have started games for the Flyers in net this season. From Brian Elliott to Michal Neuvirth, Alex Lyon, Calvin Pickard, Anthony Stolarz, Mike McKenna, Cam Talbot, and Carter Hart; it’s been another strange year in net for the Flyers to say the least.
That’s why it’s only fitting that the man who started the season between the pipes for the club —Elliott— has emerged from the ashes like a Phoenix, restoring and re-invigorating the Flyers’ remote playoff hopes over the last two weeks after missing just over three months due to a lower body injury.
Since coming on in relief of Carter Hart back on Feb. 19 against Tampa Bay, Elliott has gone 3-0-1 along with a .936 save percentage as the Flyers have continued their climb incremental up from the bottom of the standings.
Hart gave the Flyers a massive boost in a dire part of their season, but cracks started to show in his game against the league-leading Lightning and then the following game against Montreal on the road. He surrendered three goals on nine shots in both of those games, lasting just over 10 minutes before giving way to the veteran Elliott in each.
Just before the Stadium Series game against Pittsburgh a few nights later, it was announced that Hart would be out a few weeks with an ankle injury. And just like that Elliott was back to being “the man” in the crease after a long and strange journey through many months —and many bad goaltenders.
All Elliott did in that game was stand on his head in a high-pressure game —and one the Flyers were being badly outplayed in— turning aside 40 of 43 shots as the Flyers finally awoke late to steal a 4-3 overtime decision over their in-state rivals.
When fans and media alike will look back on that game and remember Jake Voracek’s late game-tying goal, or most likely Claude Giroux’s emotional overtime winner: but they’ll likely forget the performance from Elliott that made both of the aforementioned possible.
It was an emotional win for the team, and one that we could look back on as the jumping off point for the Flyers’ late surge towards the playoffs —even if it falls short. And as of this writing the Flyers have just a 9.7% chance of making the dance per our good friends at HockeyReference.
Since the Stadium Series game, Elliott has posted a 34-save win over the Sabres and a 29-save win over the then-first place Islanders sandwiched between a tough overtime loss in Columbus. He wasn’t his best, but faced 40 shots and kept the Flyers in the game later than they deserved to be.
Lost in the shuffle is that the 33-year-old did missed three whole months, yet needed just one conditioning start in Lehigh Valley (it was a bad one, by the way) before jumping into the fire against Tampa Bay and then standing on his head for the last two weeks. That’d be impressive for anyone, let alone an aging player who has suffered some pretty serious injuries in the last two seasons.
Not only did the Flyers need Elliott to play, but they’ve needed him to play well, too. The spark that Carter Hart created after January 1st for the club has continued with Elliott slotting in, and the team hasn’t missed a beat. While the hype of Hart was definitely for real, Elliott’s really been the Flyers’ best goalie all season, and their season would be vastly different had he not been out for that three month stretch —no matter how good Hart was at any point.
There’s a chance that the stellar play of Hart —and now Elliott— will go to waste if the Flyers can’t close the gap on a playoff spot, but both have altered their futures in different ways this season.
For Hart, his play has only cemented his status as the Flyers’ future between the pipes. There’s little doubt that Hart will enter training camp next Fall as the starter, with a veteran backup (possibly Talbot) in the fold as well.
As for Elliott, he’s shown that when healthy he can still play at a high level despite his age, and could be playing his way into another timeshare situation for another club next year. He will be an unrestricted free agent, and the presence of Hart and Cam Talbot (though also UFA come July 1) makes a return to Philadelphia for a third season remote.
A ton can change between now and then, and as we’ve seen with this season, pretty much anything is possible when it comes to the Flyers and goaltending. Need proof? Who would have thought in October that Carter Hart would be leading the team in wins as late as early March?
I’d never have guessed, either, but then again I never would have guessed that it’d be Brian Elliott leading the Flyers’ late playoff push after leaving him essentially for dead back in mid November.
It’s a mad, mad world in the Flyers crease.