NOVEMBER 6, 2017 | 10:50am ET
By Anthony Di Marco, The Fourth Period
BETWEEN THE PIPES: THE PHILADELPHIA FLYERS STORY
Brian Elliott, goaltender
MONTREAL, QC -- When the Philadelphia Flyers and goaltender Steve Mason mutually agreed to part ways over the summer, it was due to the fact the Flyers wanted to go with a “platoon” situation in net.
Mason, who had started 224 games over his four full seasons in Philly, was not on board with the idea and publicly made it known during the team’s exit interviews last season. He was never elite, but he was the Flyers’ most consistent starting goaltender since Ron Hextall nearly 20 years ago, so the fact that he took offence to a platoon system could be understood.
In effect, the Flyers locked up both Michal Neuvirth and Brian Elliott to two-year contracts to share starting duties. Elliott has built his career on platoon situations, as he shared the net in St Louis with Jaroslav Halak and Jake Allen for years. Neuvirth has never been a starting goaltender, as he only once played more than 40 games in a season (48 with Washington in 2010-11).
The idea was to have the Neuvirth and Elliott tandem work as a “bridge” until a young goaltender like Carter Hart or Felix Sandstrom is ready to emerge as a long term starter. This was done in similar fashion on the defensive side of things a few years back, when Hextall brought in Michael Del Zotto and Nick Schultz to stabilize the defense for a few seasons until prospects were NHL ready (i.e. this season).
But as the Flyers are 15 games into the year, and the team’s current goaltenders having been inconsistent to say the least, it’s looking like the Flyers goaltending direction may be a bit foggy.
While Neuvirth has solid numbers this season (2.17 GAA with a .928 save %), the Elliott experiment has gotten off to a horrid start. The veteran goaltender (who has started nine games) has a miserable .892 save percentage with an underwhelming 3.11 goals-against-average.
What has made the goaltending struggles even more obvious is the fact the Flyers’ offense is currently operating at a more than adequate rate, averaging 3.13 goals per game. But on too many nights, the team’s goaltender has been unable to come up with a big save when needed and be the difference in the game.
It is hard to put all the blame on the goalies, as the Flyers have dressed an incredibly inexperienced defense on most nights this season. It was to be expected the Flyers would have a rollercoaster of a season defensively with all the rookie blueliners, so some of the defensive struggles can be directly related to the inexperience.
But even though the inexperience on the blueline is part of the problem, the struggles of the goalies cannot go unnoticed.
The eye test doesn’t lie, and in almost every game the Flyers’ goaltenders have allowed at least one “stoppable” goal. Teams’ cannot afford to lose games in which they score four or more goals, and it has already three times this year in games versus the Predators, Senators and Avalanche. Those are six valuable points wasted in the standings.
But at the end of the day, is it even fair to put this blame on Elliott and Neuvrith? Are they just doing what they’re capable of and are being asked to do too much? After all, there is a reason why Hextall was able to lock them up to a combined cap hit of $5.25 million per season.
To expect either of the two goaltenders to be stellar would be a great ask, as neither of them proved that to be last season. In fact, Neuvirth had the worst save percentage out of any goalie last season who played more than 15 games, while Elliott was not far behind him. Historically, neither has ever proved to be anything more than a 1B in the net.
After years of patch work at the goaltending position, it is normal that many fans are growing tired of the same old story in Philadelphia. Names like Robert Esche, Martin Biron, Ray Emery, Michael Leighton and most of all, Ilya Bryzgalov, continue to haunt the minds of the Flyers’ fan base, and this year feels like more of the same.
That is why Mason’s departure from Philly was not liked by many fans. He was never a superstar, but he was as consistent as they come, as he is the only goalie in Flyers’ history to start 50 plus games in four consecutive seasons. In every one of those seasons, Mason finished with a save percentage of.908 or higher, and in three of the four seasons sported a.918 save percentage or higher.
As we continue to plug along into the season, and loads of positives emerge as more rookies insert themselves into the lineup, the dark cloud that hangs over the Philadelphia net continues to loom. Although there seems to be promise with guys like Hart and Sandstrom on the horizon, it is hard to look past the current situation.
As the saying goes, “the storm is darkest before the dawn,” so we can only hope that the dawn is coming with Hart and Sandstrom.