Brian Elliott providing stability amid Flyers' misery

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Brian Elliott providing stability amid Flyers' misery

Ah, yes, goaltending and Philadelphia – a match made in sportswriters and internet commenters heaven.

And in past years and decades and eons when the Flyers have been mired in miserable losing skids, a city and a fanbase have pointed their collective fingers toward the guy wearing the orange sweater in the crease.

But this time, as the egg is still smeared on the face of a team that dropped its 10th consecutive game with a 3-0 loss to the visiting Bruins on Saturday, the fingers are pointing in different directions.

And for good reason as netminder Brian Elliott has given his teammates chances to win night in and night out while he’s started eight of the 10 games in this bowling shoe-ugly streak. Michal Neuvirth only started the 3-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday and the 5-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks the previous Tuesday. Neuvirth was pulled in the second period of the Vancouver game after allowing four goals on 22 shots as the lifeless Flyers were whitewashed by the Canucks. Elliott came in and stopped all 13 shots faced as the Canucks added an empty-net tally for the cherry on top.

In those nine games played, Elliott is 0-3-5 and has a .906 save percentage. The best numbers in the world? No. But more than enough to give the Flyers a fighting chance.

“It’s about playing the game the right way and playing smart,” said Elliott, now 6-7-6 on the season, after Saturday’s loss to Boston. “It’s getting tiring coming out here and trying to explain a game or two.

“If I had the answer, we’d be turning it around, I guess, right? … I think we’re working really hard. Sometimes I think you’re spinning your tires and nothing gets accomplished – we played a good team [Saturday] with good structure and if you don’t make the smart play, they’re going to turn it around and take it the other way."

During this dark almost month-long stretch, Elliott has been a breath of fresh air in both play and influence.

That’s all obviously more-than welcomed right now on an offensively challenged team that has been outscored by a 37-20 margin during this streak and has been shut out in three of the 10 losses. If we’re looking bigger picture, the Flyers have been shut out a league-leading six times in 26 games.

There hasn’t been much help for Elliott in the meantime, save for that 5-4 OT debacle in Pittsburgh last Monday night, a game in which Elliott made 47 saves on 52 Penguins shots, and a 5-4 OT loss to Calgary two weeks ago. Six of Elliott's starts during this streak have wound up as one-goal losses, including five OT or shootout defeats.

Throughout these 10 games, the Flyers have scored just 13 5-on-5 goals to back up Elliott in his starts.

And that, to the Flyers themselves, is where a major problem lies.

“I think it’s collective, it’s a 5-on-5 game,” defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said. “It’s more collectively team 5-on-5 play and we’ve got to clean it up in all areas.”

Glaring examples came on all three of the Bruins’ goals in Saturday afternoon.

On the first one, Nolan Patrick’s ill-advised drop pass was picked by Ryan Spooner, who blew past Andrew MacDonald and hung Elliott out on the clothesline with a silky move on a breakaway.

The second Bruins goal was the result of a bad icing, which left tired Flyers on the ice and at the mercy of a well-designed faceoff play that David Pastrnak cashed in on.

The dagger of a third goal was result of yet another bad icing, which again saw tired Flyers out on the ice, and Brad Marchand was left all alone in front. He rarely misses from there.

“What got us in terms of execution on the goals against was that we made mistakes and [the Bruins] took advantage of those mistakes,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said.

“Both [second-period goals] stemmed from icings that we’d like to avoid. They’re different plays from there. One is a faceoff play where we get beat off the wall to a puck in the middle of the rink. And the second one is coverage out of a scrum on the half-wall in our zone. We had four guys in on that pile and we should have three and two on the outside of it.”

Saturday’s goals against are just samples on the smorgasbord of coverage mistakes that have plagued the Flyers all season, but especially since this streak began way back on Nov. 11 with a 1-0 loss at home to the Minnesota Wild.

Cleaning it up in all areas, as Gostisbehere bluntly stated, will certainly help put more victories in the win column of a goaltender who deserves more of them.

But Elliott isn’t the type to make a fuss about that whether to the media or internally in the locker room. He’s been a steadying presence in the toughest of times for a team chock-full of younger players, especially the defensemen who surround and protect his crease on a daily basis.

“It’s just having belief and sticking together,” Elliott said. “It’s not a magical recipe, it’s playing the game the right way. We have the personnel in here to do it. You’ve got to keep going. There’s no give up in this room, that’s what I know for sure.”

While the results haven’t come for Elliott, he’s still providing something to the Flyers right now in the most trying of times: stability, both in and out of the locker room.

And in the most unstable of times, the little things can start to be an agent of change, no matter how big or small.

Why the Flyers? How Canadians decided to 'bleed orange'

John Boruk/NBCSP

Why the Flyers? How Canadians decided to 'bleed orange'

Aaron Roberts proudly wore his No. 88 Eric Lindros jersey when the Flyers traveled to Edmonton in December. Aaron also owns a John LeClair jersey, a Wayne Simmonds sweater, and at the time, a Claude Giroux that was on order.    

Roberts, like many who attended that game, is an Orange and Black diehard who was born and raised in Canada.

“Growing up when Philly won their Cups I started watching hockey,” Roberts said. “I don’t know. I went with a winner then and I just never, ever veered away from it. Of course, there’s temptation, but it’s always been Philadelphia for me.”

It’s not unusual to see a Philly faithful make their way out of the Canadian woodwork. Their popularity even rivals that of American-based Original Six teams.  

“I find that when I go to games Flyers fans are more friendly, like everyone wants to high five and stuff, which is cool,” said Troy Krechuniak, who lives in Calgary, but grew up in Edmonton. “I had to go through all of that (the Oilers winning the Stanley Cup). That’s the problem going through the (Wayne) Gretzky years, 1985 Game 5, 1987 Game 7.” 

So why this allegiance to a team located hundreds of miles away in another country? 

At one time, the Philadelphia Flyers were as Canadian as the Montreal Canadiens themselves, considering they’re still the last team to win a Stanley Cup with an all-Canadian roster. 

“First off, you choose the identity of a team when you’re probably six-to-nine years old, and at my age, I cheered for the Broad Street Bullies - Bobby Clarke, Dave Schultz and so forth,” said Rick LeFort of Saskatchewan. “I moved to Manitoba years later. Manitoba connections are Bobby Clarke and Reggie Leach.”

More than 40 years after bringing the city of Philadelphia it’s first Stanley Cup championship, the Broad Street Bullies left behind a legacy that has impacted a region where hockey is indeed a religion.

“Being in Calgary when there was no team, you got to choose which team you wanted to affiliate yourself with,” said Shawn Cochlan of Langdon, Alberta. “I did love that brand of hockey, and yet, a lot of my friends didn’t. I liked Philadelphia better because they were tougher.”

And the allegiance to the Flyers has been passed down from a generation of fans to their children and siblings.  

“My aunt and uncle were big Flyers fans, and I loved being an outsider,” said Ryan Doram of Edmonton. “Every year when the Flyers come to Edmonton we make sure we come to the games. I loved Lindros. I loved the Recchi years, and you always find your new favorites I guess. You always find players you look and gravitate to.”

Giroux has that gravitational pull. As the Flyers hit Ottawa and Montreal one final time this weekend, you’ll see No. 28 jerseys scattered throughout the arenas for the Hearst, Ontario native.

“We haven’t won a cup in a while. We’ve been there four or five times, but we’re getting better. I like what Ron Hextall is doing, and we’re going in the right direction,” said 54-year-old Tom Banks. 

“You cut me in the winter months, I bleed orange.”

Pekka Rinne notches milestone in Predators' rout

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Pekka Rinne notches milestone in Predators' rout

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Pekka Rinne made 33 saves in his 300th career win and the Nashville Predators routed the San Jose Sharks 7-1 on Thursday night.

Nick Bonino, Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson each had a goal and an assist, and Scott Hartnell, Kevin Fiala and Mattias Ekholm also scored for Nashville, which has won three straight. The Predators moved within one point of expansion Vegas for the Western Conference lead.

Nashville defensemen Roman Josi and P.K. Subban each had two assists.

All of Rinne's wins have come with Nashville. He tied former Predators goalie Tomas Vokoun for 33rd place in NHL history.

Logan Couture had the San Jose goal. The loss snapped the Sharks' three-game winning streak (see full recap).

Wild use big 2nd period to top Devils
NEWARK, N.J. -- Joel Eriksson Ek and Chris Stewart scored in a 39-second span during Minnesota's three-goal second period, and the Wild rallied from two down to beat the New Jersey Devils 4-2 on Thursday night.

Wild defenseman Mike Reilly also scored in the second period and Eric Staal iced the game with an empty-net goal, his 900th NHL point. Backup goalie Alex Stalock made 38 saves as the Wild moved into third place in the Central Division after winning for the 11th time in 17 games (11-3-3).

Taylor Hall and Stefan Noesen scored for the Devils, who have lost two in a row after a four-game winning streak. Eddie Lack made 21 saves.

Hall's 13-game point streak is the longest in NHL this season, one more than David Pastrnak of Boston.

Minnesota coach Bruce Boudreau made the right moves in this one, inserting Reilly and Stewart into the lineup and electing to give No. 1 goaltender Devan Dubnyk a night off (see full recap).

Matthews exits Maple Leafs’ SO victory with injury
TORONTO -- Tyler Bozak scored the shootout winner and the Toronto Maple Leafs edged the New York Islanders 4-3 on Thursday night.

Auston Matthews tipped in Jake Gardiner's shot to tie it 3-all with 3:29 remaining in the third period, but later left the game favoring his right side after taking a hit from Cal Clutterbuck and did not return. The 20-year-old Toronto star missed six games in December with a concussion and another four games with an undisclosed upper-body injury.

Mitch Marner and Morgan Rielly had the other Maple Leafs goals, and Frederik Andersen made 32 saves. Toronto (38-20-5) has won eight straight at home.

Ryan Pulock, Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle scored for the Islanders (29-26-7), and Jaroslav Halak turned aside 28 shots. New York, one point out of a wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, dropped to 4-6-2 since the All-Star break and 13-15-3 on the road this season.

With his three points, Barzal has a team-leading 65 and a 14-point lead over Brock Boeser of the Vancouver Canucks in the NHL's rookie scoring race (see full recap).