The inconsistent streaky play that has defined the Flyers’ season was apparent over the last two weeks. After the exciting back-to-back overtime victories when Travis Konecny shined, the team dropped their next four games in underwhelming fashion. They then followed that up with a four-game winning streak including a sweep on the West Coast this past weekend.
Teams will go through trends in any season, following losing streaks with winning streaks. For the Flyers, their recent roller coaster is not because of line changes or new coaching schemes, it is because of Brian Elliott.
The Elliott Effect: When the Flyers play with more confidence and win more games simply because Brian Elliott is healthy and playing.
Elliott Fuels Flyers to Victory
Despite the implications of a four-game winning streak, the Flyers were only slightly better than their play in the previous four games. That slight improvement was the difference between winning and losing games and comes down to a change in personnel. Elliott was placed on the injured reserve list at the end of January. The key piece of the Flyers’ roster returned just recently to spark success.
Elliott has won five straight starts and eight of the last ten before his recent injury against the Arizona Coyotes. His performance against the Washington Capitals on Jan. 21 is the reason the Flyers were able to win that game. The same can be said about his return from IR to face the Carolina Hurricanes.
Otherwise, he has been good, not great. He has kept the Flyers in games which is what they need. More importantly, he provides reassurance as the team plays with more confidence when he is the starting goaltender.
Remember the feeling in Philadelphia when Carson Wentz went down for the Eagles? It was doomsday. Nick Foles was the replacement, a guy who has been successful with the team but did not invoke the same confidence as the starter. It is a similar situation with the Flyers. It’s not doomsday, but the shift in confidence is evident.
While Elliott isn’t an MVP candidate by any means, he is the goaltender who gives the Flyers the best chance to win. Michal Neuvirth has also been successful in the past but can he be the one to carry the team into the playoffs and beyond?
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Confidence goes a long way. With it, players skate differently, even if subconsciously. Without it players are less aggressive and play more passively, trying to prevent a loss instead of striving for a victory. In this case, the Flyers feel better and play better with Elliott in net.
A Confident Neuvirth Fills the Gap
Still, the Elliott Effect may be spreading. Confidence can be contagious and before Elliott returns from injury to right the wrongs, it looks like Neuvirth is turning into the Nick Foles of the playoffs. His play is the difference between the Flyers being on a two-game losing streak and coming off back-to-back wins out west.
Neuvirth entered the game against the Coyotes in the middle of the shootout after Elliott left the ice with what would later be diagnosed as a lower-body injury. Despite coming in cold, the Flyers backup came up with a couple of huge saves and the team avoided an embarrassing loss. The next day, the team went from facing the last place team to the first place team. Neuvirth got the start against the Vegas Golden Knights and was sensational.
The Flyers did not play well in the 4-1 victory. They were passive, missing passes, losing battles in both zones, and allowed the Golden Knights to camp in the offensive zone for extended periods of time. Part of this was because Neuvirth was in net and the Flyers wanted to protect him.
They did that to an extent blocking shots and winning faceoffs, but Neuvirth protected himself in this one. He stopped 38 of the 39 shots and the Flyers capitalized on the opportunities given to them. Claude Giroux spoke after the game about Neuvirth saying, “He made a lot of big saves and was able to shut them down. Without him, we don’t win this game.”
That has been the key storyline in this four-game winning streak. The Flyers have not played great, but they are winning games. Their mindset is different with Elliott in net, whether they admit it or not, which affects their play and their results. Neuvirth said he felt confident entering the game against Vegas. His play, as recognized by the captain, should boost team confidence moving forward, even if Elliott has to miss more time.
Metropolitan Matchups Await Ahead
The Flyers will need Neuvirth to play as well as he did against Vegas in the upcoming schedule. Four of their next five games are against Metropolitan Division rivals. These points are critical for the Flyers if they hope to make the playoffs. After the win against the Golden Knights, they are in third place in the division with 65 points. Everyone in the Metropolitan has a good chance at the playoffs and will be bringing their best. The Flyers will have to do the same.
Neuvirth has been inconsistent this season. His play against one of the best teams in hockey uplifted the spirits of Flyers fans, but he needs to be consistent. A backup QB carried the Eagles to the Super Bowl, but there were question marks about him all the way through. The Flyers need to see more from their goalie before they try to sell a similar story.