Goaltender Brian Elliott is a big part of the reason the Flyers had a solid December, including a win over the NHL-best Lightning.
So far, there are two constants that have characterized the 2017-18 season for the Philadelphia Flyers.
One is that the team can be infuriatingly inconsistent, losing to an obviously inferior opponent one night and then beating the best the NHL has to offer the next.
Take the month of December for example. The Flyers opened the month losing their tenth straight game, a humiliating 3-0 loss to the Boston Bruins. The, just when you are ready to write the club off and start looking forward to next season, the Flyers rip off six wins in a row and finish the month 8-4-1.
And the final win of the month? It came against the Tampa Bay Lightning, who went into Friday night’s game with a record of 16-2-1 and had only lost at Amalie Arena twice all year.
The Flyers left Florida with a decisive 5-3 win and didn’t look at all like the hockey club that had just lost three straight games to teams with losing records, including the lowly Buffalo Sabers.
So how did the Flyers seemingly turn things around? That would be the second constant the Flyers have seen this season.
Goaltender Brian Elliott.
Elliott has been between the pipes for every game Philadelphia has played in December, including three back-to-backs. Against the Lightning he proved the difference, stopping 24 of 27 shots on goal and providing a steadying presence for a Flyers club in desperate need of one.
Make no mistake, despite the Flyers power play finally waking up and going 2-6 with goals by Wayne Simmonds and Shayne Gostisbehere, this win was all Elliott. He stopped a flurry of shots at the end of the second that helped the Flyers go into the third period with a 3-2 lead.
After the game, defenseman Brandon Manning spoke about how Elliott has helped the team build confidence and provide stability in goal.
“It’s something that maybe the last couple of years that’s kinda been hit and miss. Now when he’s in there, there’s a lot of confidence for our defensemen back there.”
The only problem is that eventually, Elliott is going to need a break. But that may have to wait for a while.
The Flyers have a stretch of games coming up that could greatly help their chances of making the postseason, including their next game against the Pittsburgh Penguins followed by the New York Islanders, both of whom the Flyers are chasing in the Wild Card race.
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No, you don’t want to burn Elliott out and you need to try to keep him fresh. But with so many key games coming up, I just don’t see how you do that. At least, not until the Flyers offense can be counted on to be as consistent at Elliott has been.
It sure looks like the month of January could be a make or break month for the Flyers and their playoff hopes. Let’s hope the hardest working man in hockey can keep it up for a little bit longer.