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.

2018 NHL draft position preview — Left wingers

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2018 NHL draft position preview — Left wingers

We began our 2018 NHL draft position previews with a look at the top draft-eligible centers. This draft is top-heavy at wing and defense. We continue our previews with a look at left wingers.

Filip Zadina, 6-0/195, Halifax (QMJHL)
Zadina, who finished as the third-best North American skater by NHL Central Scouting, led all QMJHL rookies and was tied for seventh among all players in 2017-18 with 82 points. He won the Mike Bossy Trophy as the league’s best professional prospect. Playing for the Czech Republic, Zadina was named to the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship All-Star team, scoring eight points in seven games. Hard-working winger with an elite shot, future top-liner.

Draft projection: Top three

Brady Tkachuk, 6-3/196, Boston University (NCAA)
The son of USA Hockey Hall of Famer Keith Tkachuk and brother of Matthew Tkachuk (Flames), Brady Tkachuk checks in as the second-best North American skater by Central Scouting. Had eight goals and 31 points in 40 games during his freshman season at Boston University and added three goals and nine points in seven games during the world juniors. He plays a physical game much like his dad and brother but has a little more finesse to it.

Draft projection: Top five

Joel Farabee, 6-0/164, USNTDP
Farabee finished as the 12th-rated North American skater by Central Scouting. Possesses excellent speed and a strong shot and plays an effective two-way game. A little undersized but the game has changed, so that shouldn’t be a major issue. He had 15 goals and 40 points in 26 games for Team USA in the USHL in 2017-18, and 33 goals and 76 points in 64 games for the USA U-18 team in the USA Hockey National Team Development Program.

Draft projection: Between Nos. 10-18

Grigori Denisenko, 5-11/176, Yarolsavl Jr (Russia)
Denisenko saw a three-spot drop from the Central Scouting midterm rankings to the final, finishing as the seventh-best European skater. He’s gifted with the puck and makes plays, but he has a bit of a reputation as an inconsistent player. The Russian factor may scare teams away. Had nine goals and 22 points in 31 games in the MHL and played four games in the KHL playoffs. On talent alone, Denisenko is among the best in this year’s class.

Draft projection: Mid-to-late first round

Blake McLaughlin, 6-0/162, Chicago (USHL)
McLaughlin checks in as the 24th-rated North American skater by Central Scouting. Another American prospect among the top draft-eligible left wingers, McLaughlin’s best attribute is his shot, though he’s an excellent skater. He finished the 2017-18 season with the Chicago Steel as nearly a point-per-game player, scoring 23 goals and 52 points in 54 games. He’s headed to the University of Minnesota in the fall. Could squeak into late first round but probably a second-rounder.

Draft projection: Early second round

NBC Sports Philadelphia+ to air Lehigh Valley Phantoms Eastern Conference Finals Games

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NBC Sports Philadelphia+ to air Lehigh Valley Phantoms Eastern Conference Finals Games

Philadelphia, PA (May 18, 2018) — NBC Sports Philadelphia announced today the network will air the American Hockey League Eastern Conference Finals games featuring the Lehigh Valley Phantoms and the Toronto Marlies. Games Three through Five will air on NBC Sports Philadelphia+ at 7 p.m.
May 23 - Toronto Marlies at Lehigh Valley Phantoms, Game 3 – 7pm on NBC Sports Philadelphia+

May 25** — Toronto Marlies at Lehigh Valley Phantoms, Game 4 – 7pm on NBC Sports Philadelphia+

May 26*** — Toronto Marlies at Lehigh Valley Phantoms, Game 5 – 7pm on NBC Sports Philadelphia+, *if necessary
** Philadelphia Soul will air on NBC Sports Philadelphia. 

*** The Philadelphia Phillies game will air on NBC Sports Philadelphia, regardless if there is a Game 5 or not.

Atlantic Division Champions for the 2017-18 season, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, proud American Hockey League affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers, have advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals where they will face off against the Toronto Marlies, AHL affiliate of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The winner of the best-of-seven series will then advance to the 2018 Calder Cup Finals. After posting the AHL’s second-most wins (47) and second-most standings points (105), the top-seeded Phantoms eliminated the Providence Bruins in four games (3-1) in the opening round before defeating the Charlotte Checkers in five games (4-1) in the Atlantic Division Finals — a series which included the historic longest game in AHL history.