The Philadelphia Flyers are scheduled to play eight back-to-back games during this truncated 56-game slate that covers only 17 weeks. In addition to playing on consecutive days, the Flyers have six weeks when they will play four games.
The Flyers will have no choice but to periodically rest starting goalie Carter Hart. They are probably going to need backup Brian Elliott to carry an even heavier load than he would during a normal 82-game schedule.
In Tuesday’s game against the Buffalo Sabres, Elliott proved he is up to the task. In his first start of the season, the netminder was extremely sound – and lucky – as he made 40 saves in the Flyers’ 3-0 victory at the Wells Fargo Center.
It was his 41st career shutout, and the 40 stops were a career high for Elliott in a shutout. Also, it ties for the fifth-most saves in a shutout in Flyers history, according to the Flyers media relations department.
“He made some huge saves for us to keep the game zero-to-zero and kept us in the game,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. “He was battling out there and working his butt off. He is part of the reason we won the game tonight.”
Sure, it’s only a tiny sample size, but he had to give the Flyers some major reassurance with his performance against the Sabres, who lit the team up for six goals the night before.
He made the routine saves and delivered big ones when tested. He helped kill a 5-on-3 power play early in the first period, stoned Jeff Skinner twice on point-blank shots in the first period, and had a beauty to keep the Sabres off the board during a power play in the second period.
The hockey Gods were also on his side – two pucks clamored off the post.
“No doubt, he was a big part of tonight’s win,” Flyers coach Alain Vigneault said. “He made big saves at the right time.”
Elliott’s First Appearance This Season Came in Relief
While Tuesday marked Elliott’s first start of the season, he made his debut in Monday’s loss. The 35-year-old relieved Hart midway through the game and allowed two goals on 15 shots in mop-up duty.
Although the game was relatively meaningless at the point he entered it, Elliott used the time to shed some of the rust from the offseason and not having any exhibition games to get in his work.
“I think it’s nice to have a little playing time under the belt before you get your first start,” Elliott said. “It doesn’t matter how many years you have played, the first game of the year you always want to start off on a good note.”
The fact that the Flyers got Elliott into the game on Monday was one of the few positives the coaching staff was able to claim.
“There is no doubt that we thought that right after the game,” Vigneault said. “One of the few things that we saw from (Monday night’s) game, other than we can get right back at it was the fact that he did get some work in.
“Brian’s been excellent throughout (since) the start of training camp and has been working really hard. This is the first time in the last couple of years that he was healthy and able to train and work out. He’s come focused and ready to play and win games. That’s what we need from both of our goaltenders.”
Elliott’s History With the Flyers
Elliott is far from flashy and has his weaknesses, but he’s provided the Flyers with a steady and capable hand since the team signed him before the 2017-18 season. The veteran was originally inked to a two-year, $5.5 million contract to share the starter’s role with Michal Neuvirth.
He went 23-11-11 in his first year but injuries, and the arrival of Hart, limited him to only 26 games in 2018-19. The Flyers re-signed Elliott for one season at $2 million to serve as Hart’s backup last season, and he finished a respectable 16-7-4 with a 2.87 goals against average (GAA) and .899 save percentage. In three playoff appearances, he went 1-1, stopped 56 shots, and had a 2.15 GAA.
The Flyers wisely re-upped him for one more year at a team-friendly rate of $1.5 million in the fall. Given his recent history and strong relationship with Hart, that figure looks like a bargain, especially if he turns in more performances as he did against the Sabres.
“He played great today,” Flyers forward Oscar Lindblom said. “The huge saves he made at the start of the game saved us a couple of times. As long as we have a goalie we can trust, we will be great.”
Elliott’s Next Start May Come in Boston
The Flyers travel to New England for their first road trip with a two-game set against the Boston Bruins. However, they are not back-to-back games – they play Thursday and Saturday – so there is no guarantee Elliott returns between the pipes.
If anything, Elliott made Vigneault’s decision of who to play in goal more difficult. After his effort on Tuesday, Elliott should get the nod for one of the games.
“We know what we are going to get each night in net – that is the benefit of having two solid goalies,” Flyers forward Travis Konecny said. “The effort (Monday) was not there for the team. Moose competes when he is in there and he gives us the best chance to win.
“(Tonight) he kept us in the game. He has a lot of games under his belt and a lot of experience. When we need big games, he is there to do it.”