January 9, 2018 | 6:00pm ET
By Anthony Di Marco, The Fourth Period
PLATOON NO MORE?
Brian Elliott, goaltender
MONTREAL, QC -- “It doesn’t work for the goaltending position.” Those were some (of the many) parting words by former Flyers’ goaltender Steve Mason at his exit interviews with the Philadelphia media last spring.
After parts of five seasons with the Flyers (and becoming one of the longest tenured goaltenders in franchise history), Mason moved on to Winnipeg over the summer. The divorce between Mason and the Flyers was directly related to management’s belief in the platoon system with the goaltenders.
With Michal Neuvirth re-signed and Brian Elliott brought in, it seemed as though the Flyers had finally assembled a perfect goaltending duo to fit this system.
But midway through the 2017-18 season, with the Flyers on the outside looking in from the playoff picture, it seems as though the platoon plan has gone belly up in Philly.
After starting 16 straight games, it’s safe to say that Elliott is the undisputed starter in Philadelphia. Although Head Coach Dave Hakstol will never admit it, it is clear there is a lack of trust in the goaltenders besides Elliott.
Alex Lyon did not even get a sniff at the crease during his recall in Philadelphia, while Neuvirth has yet to play since returning from (another) injury. Whether it is his incredibly inconsistent play, or his injury prone reputation, Neuvirth seems to have lost the confidence of the coach.
Thus, the reasoning behind the separation between Mason and the Flyers continues to make less sense with each passing day.
To be fair to Elliott, he has played adequately over his 16 consecutive starts. Since starting the year in mediocre fashion, Elliott upped his play big time during December, even winning star of the week honors in back to back weeks. During December, Elliott played more than any other goaltender in the league.
But through 34 games, and sporting modest numbers (2.74 GAA and .910 save percentage), it’s clear that Elliott is not a goaltender capable of playing as the undisputed starter. As mentioned in a previous article back in November, Elliott has only played over 50 games once in his career (his first season in 2009-10 in Ottawa). Since then, Elliott has vastly made his career on being a 1B goaltender, and a very good one, at that.
But to think the Flyers brought in Elliott to be the undisputed starter is just unfathomable. Elliott had that position in Calgary last year, and to say it didn’t work out would be an understatement. The idea was to have Elliott and Neuvirth battle for the job until one of them got hot down the stretch, hence the reasoning behind Mason leaving.
This has proved not to be the case, and has left GM Ron Hextall in a very precarious position. Neuvirth’s inconsistency (both play and health wise) has left Hextall with only one true option between the pipes, especially with the team’s clear lack of faith in Lyon and Anthony Stolarz still on the shelf with injury.
With the Flyers just one point out of the playoff picture with half the season to go, the 2017-18 campaign is far from a lost one. They have played just well enough to stay in the playoff hunt and allow themselves the chance to still squeak in with a solid back end of the season.
Although possible, the Flyers will need more consistency from the goaltending position, platoon or not. If the platoon is in fact the direction they want to go, Hakstol will have no choice but to show more trust in Neuvirth (and even Lyon if need be). Elliott has already begun to show signs of fatigue, and we’re just halfway through the year.
Hextall made the controversial decision to go down the platoon route with the goaltenders, and stuck to his guns to defend his decision. With Elliott and Neuvirth both locked up until the summer of 2019, it was clear that they were the two to handle the job for this season and next. But with the system already to seemingly falter just halfway through season one of the Elliott/Neuvirth experiment, one has to wonder if Hexy is already second guessing himself.