In the Flyers’ 2-1 loss on Tuesday to the Florida Panthers, which ended their season-high six-game point streak, there was plenty of blame to go around.
For starters, the atrocious penalty kill, ranked second to last in the NHL, surrendered a goal for the 10th time in the last 11 games. The anemic power play, ranked 29th out of 31 teams, was nonexistent again, and then, there was the fact that the team failed to show up for the first 40 minutes – only to frantically try to make amends over the final 20, which rarely results in a favorable outcome.
The only player Dave Hakstol could not pin the loss on was stationed between the pipes.
Brian Elliott, who made 28 saves, was the only reason the Flyers were even within striking distance. Through the first two periods, he made terrific saves to bail his team out, and the two pucks that got past him were not his fault.
However, his performance was part of a favorable trend. After a rocky start to the season, when he was still recovering from offseason hip surgery, the 33-year-old has found a groove.
Entering the game against the Panthers, Elliott had won four straight while recording a minuscule 1.12 goals-against average and .960 save percentage. He was also coming off his first shutout of the season, and just his second since signing with the Flyers in 2017, against the Blackhawks over the weekend.
“Whenever you put a donut up on the scoreboard you feel good, but I felt ‘on,'” Elliott said following the Blackhawks’ game. “I felt like I was seeing pucks and stuff was hitting me. That’s all you can ask for as a goalie.”
When the Panthers scored in the second period, it was the first goal he allowed in over six periods. “He was outstanding,” defenseman Robert Hagg said. “Without him in there it would be a different game I would think.”
Hagg was talking about Saturday’s game, but it could have been any of the last couple of weeks.
The strong play started on the team’s West Coast trip at the end of October. Elliott was instrumental in the Flyers’ late 3-2 victory over the Ducks and two nights later with the Flyers nursing a 3-2 lead to start the third against the Kings, he shut the door to preserve the 5-2 win that also started his shutout streak.
Elliott, who was unavailable for a couple games due to an injury, returned and replaced a struggling Cal Pickard late in the second period with the Flyers trailing 4-2 against the Coyotes last Thursday. He blanked the Coyotes the rest of the way as the Flyers rebounded to register a 5-4 win in overtime before the Blackhawks visited.
“He kept us in the lead there,” Sean Couturier said. “That’s huge and you get confidence from that. It just helps the whole lineup when you have a guy that keeps you in the game like that and makes big saves. It’s huge.”
In a season where the play and health of Elliott will determine if the Flyers qualify for and advance in the playoffs. It’s a good sign for the team to see that the netminder has settled in before Thanksgiving.