ron hextall

Brian Elliott injury could mean bad news for Flyers

Brian Elliott injury could mean bad news for Flyers

Updated: 6:32 p.m.

It's never easy for the Flyers in net.

Things got only tougher Tuesday as goalie Brian Elliott underwent core muscle surgery and is expected out five to six weeks.

For the time being, the Flyers will turn to Michal Neuvirth and Alex Lyon. Speaking before tonight's game against the Devils at the Wells Fargo Center, general manager Ron Hextall said the Flyers plan to roll with Neuvirth and Lyon during Elliott's absence, although the team will keep its options open (see story).

The 32-year-old Elliott sustained the injury during last Saturday night's shootout against the Coyotes. Neuvirth won the skills competition in relief and then beat the Western Conference-leading Golden Knights on Sunday night.

“We’ve got confidence with him in net, a lot of confidence,” Wayne Simmonds said Tuesday of Neuvirth (see story). “He gets us that win in a shootout. He comes in in a pinch and does a great job, and then he plays unbelievable against Vegas. Of course we have faith in him.”

Elliott is 21-11-7 with a 2.72 goals-against average and .908 save percentage in his first season with the Flyers after signing a two-year deal in the offseason.

Neuvirth is 7-7-2 with a 2.50 goals-against average and .917 save percentage in 18 games (14 starts). Throughout his time with the Flyers, he's played well when needed to fill in. The key, as usual with Neuvirth, will be staying healthy. Last season, he never quite got right as he battled a left knee injury and sickness. In 2015-16, his first season with the Flyers, Neuvirth went 18-8-4 with a 2.27 goals-against average and .924 save percentage, as well as 2-1-0 with 103 saves on 105 shots in the playoffs.

“Neuvy will go out and do his job,” head coach Dave Hakstol said at Tuesday's morning skate. “He did that in Vegas. There’s no overemphasis on anything. There’s a lot of imperfect situations. You band together and you go do a job and right now Neuvy has a job to do for our team.”

Lyon, a 25-year-old rookie, has just three career NHL games under his belt.

With 26 games to go, the Flyers entered Tuesday in playoff position, holding third place in the Metropolitan Division.

Provorov's Olympic disappointment

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USA Today Images

Provorov's Olympic disappointment

Ivan Provorov is disappointed. 

Not bitter and disgusted like Alex Ovechkin may feel, but upset nonetheless that the NHL won’t be participating in the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

“It is unfortunate and a little sad, because every time you get a chance to represent your country it’s something special,” said Provorov. “It’s a different type of feeling because you get together, you have to jell real fast and find chemistry. It’s a shorter tournament, two to three weeks. Every time you get a chance to play for your country it’s something special. It is very unfortunate and sad that NHL players can’t go.”

The reality will hit home when Russia opens the Olympic tournament on Wednesday, Feb. 14 against Slovakia. Had the NHL and the Players Association struck an agreement, this would have been Provorov’s first trip to the Olympics and probably his only opportunity to play with superstars like Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk, iconic figures he grew up watching as a kid in Yaroslavl, who are no longer in the NHL.

“Datsyuk is definitely one of them,” said Provorov. “Growing up there was Sergei Gonchar. I got to watch a little bit of (Sergei) Zubov. He was an unbelievable player, a great two-way defenseman.”

Four years ago, Provorov was a 17-year-old skating for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders of the USHL when his native Russia hosted the Winter Olympics in Sochi. There was a tremendous level of expectations for the Russian hockey team that finished a very disappointing fifth. Since the incorporation of NHLers in the Olympics, Russia hasn’t medaled since winning bronze in 2002 in Salt Lake City, and the last time they claimed gold came in 1992 when the former Soviet nations formed the Unified team. Provorov wasn’t even born yet.

Still, the importance and relevance of winning Olympic gold is not lost on the 21-year-old defenseman. Provorov comprised a Russian team that took the bronze at the World Championships and he’s been part of two silver medal winning team at the World Junior Championships.   

“Hockey is one of the main sports back home. Everybody watches it and everybody loves it,” said Provorov. “That would be huge. It would be special. It’s a different feeling playing in the NHL. It’s a longer season. Eighty-two games and then playoffs. It’s a grind. There, it’s a different feeling because you get together real fast.”   

Along with former Los Angeles Kings blueliner Slava Voynov, Provorov may have been Team Russia’s top defenseman in the tournament. He would have been tasked to play some big minutes while shutting down some of the most talented lines assembled. Some hockey players could be overwhelmed saddled with that level of responsibility, but Flyers general manager Ron Hextall believes Provorov would have handled the pressure with the same calmness and composure of playing 20-25 minutes every night in the NHL. 

“I don’t think he’s the type of kid that needs a shot in the arm or perform at a certain event to elevate his game,” said Hextall. “Ivan’s a very driven player. He brings a terrific focus and work ethic to the rink every day. I guess you can always say it may benefit him, but I think Ivan playing in the NHL every day as a young kid is benefitting him right now as well.”
 
Why Provorov doesn’t harbor the resentment like other players around the league, including teammate Jake Voracek, is that he doesn’t exactly know what he’s missing out on. His Olympic dream is on hiatus, and come 2022 in Beijing, Provorov will be 25 and arguably in the prime of his career. 

“I’m young, so hopefully in 4 years I’ll have another chance to go.”

Flyers should FINALLY add at NHL trade deadline

Flyers should FINALLY add at NHL trade deadline

VOORHEES, N.J. — Ron Hextall has one month to decide how he’ll proceed with a team that has made a rapid ascension up the Metropolitan Division standings.

With the Feb. 26 trade deadline looming, the Flyers have 14 games to help solidly their playoff position, which would give the general manager a little more clarity into the legitimacy of the team's current stretch of solid play.

Two years ago, when the Flyers advanced to the postseason in Dave Hakstol’s first year as head coach, Hextall was content riding with his current roster without making a single upgrade. You could even debate Hextall created addition by subtraction once he dealt Vinny Lecavalier and Luke Schenn to the Los Angeles Kings for Jordan Weal and a third-round pick, clearing roughly $8 million in cap space.

“I guess filling a hole and upgrading might be a little different,” Hextall said Wednesday. “I’m not going to say ‘no’ because we’re going to try and get better if we can get better.”

Which leads to a more pressing question.

What area(s) can the Flyers improve through a trade?

For depth purposes, the Flyers could use another defenseman, but so would every team and they don’t come cheap.

Personally, the Flyers need more flexibility at the forward position, in particular, at center. Sean Couturier has been a rock-solid No. 1 and Nolan Patrick is an emerging No. 2. Valtteri Filppula, who Hextall added at last season’s deadline, has proven to be a serviceable third-line center who plays reliably defensively and can easily adapt to the wing, but his lack of speed will become a factor in the playoffs.

If one of those three suffers an injury, then the Flyers would be forced to shuffle personnel to make up for the loss. Hakstol could move Claude Giroux back to the middle, but considering how well he’s played working in tandem with Couturier and now Travis Konecny, you'd prefer to keep Giroux at left wing.

Scott Laughton has the ability to contribute more minutes, but he’s settled into the role of a fourth-line center, who can also contribute on the penalty kill. Hakstol has even utilized Weal and Jori Lehtera at the center position at different times, but those moves are not ideal either. Weal has speed, Lehtera has size, preferably you would like a center who combines both attributes.

Hextall, and every other GM, knows you need two solid, reliable scoring lines. As well as Michael Raffl and Jakub Voracek have played, they could truly thrive with a center that brings more offensive upside.

Two years ago, when the Flyers battled the Capitals to a six-game series, their biggest downfall clearly was offensive production, having scored just six goals in six games, and never scoring more than two goals in any game of that series. The Flyers never had a chance in that series, as the Capitals were the deeper, more dominant team. Washington finished 24 points better than the Flyers in the standings.

This season is different. The Flyers are deeper and there’s considerably more parity, not just within the division but within the entire Eastern Conference. They’ve proven they can hang with the heavyweights by winning three straight games against the Capitals and Lightning. For the first time in the Hextall era, it’s a Flyers team that can not only make the playoffs but potentially win a series or two.

“Whether something is out there, I don’t know," Hextall said. "I feel like we have kids who can fill in if we have injuries or erratic play. Unless it was a nice upgrade at a reasonable price, I’m not going to trade a good young player at this point.”

Thankfully for Hextall, barring a rash of injuries to key players, the Flyers won’t need to offer up a talented prospect since they’re not in the market to add a marquee player or bonafide goal scorer, and unlike previous seasons, there appears to be a larger pool of prospective sellers, a list that includes the Sabres, Senators, Panthers, Canadiens, Red Wings, Coyotes, Canucks and Oilers.

According to SportsNet Canada’s Elliotte Friedman, Ottawa is already fielding calls on Jean-Gabriel Pageau (my preference would be Derick Brassard) and Minnesota has received inquiries into Charlie Coyle.

Still, Hextall doesn’t appear too convinced.

“If you look at the history of it, it’s not very good," Hextall said. "Name me a player, the big player the team got at the deadline and was a huge factor in them winning. It doesn’t happen very often. I don’t feel like we have to do that. Our big guys are our big guys and are playing well. Our kids are getting better.”