VOORHEES, N.J. — The Flyers certainly were not coy in their admission they’ve been a different team recently without Brian Elliott.
“He has that presence in the dressing room," head coach Dave Hakstol said. “Very quickly and very quietly he’s become one of the guys that really controls the pulse of our team. That’s an important presence to have back for us in our lineup. His demeanor and the way he goes about his work on a daily basis, and for sure, it’s his seriousness for how he goes about his work on game days.”
Elliott returned to practice Monday morning, and perhaps not a minute too soon, as the Flyers still haven’t won since his last start, which came in a 2-1 overtime victory in Detroit Jan. 23. Prior to the team’s charter flight to Raleigh, North Carolina, the Flyers activated Elliott off injured reserve and reassigned Alex Lyon to Lehigh Valley.
“It’s huge for us,” defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said of Elliott's return. “Neuvy (Michal Neuvirth) and Lyon did their best for what they could do. Obviously having Moose back is going to bring our game up a level. Neuvy and Lyon did some good things for us, but Moose is ready.”
“It feels good to be back at a regular practice with these guys,” Elliott said. “I had a couple off skates by myself or only a couple off guys out there. It’s good to have that pace and we had a really good pace today at practice. It was good to get the wind back and see some shots out there.”
Elliott had been dealing with a nagging lower-body injury that flared up not long after the morning skate Jan. 25 prior to the game against the Lightning. Later that afternoon, the Flyers called up Lyon and Elliott used the next seven days to heat and rest.
“It was something you play through a little bit. The last couple of games you’re feeling it," Elliott said. "We tried to take the smart approach that we have a lot of games left. The All-Star break provided five straight days of rest and we tried to take advantage of that. It took a little bit longer than that break. I think it’s smart to be smart and not push it and make sure that you’re ready to go.
“Yeah, I feel good. You try to take precaution so you’re not trying to come back too early. When you feel good and confident in everything you’re doing, you just want to get out there and play.
“You never want to watch your team lose at all, and I thought it was really good for our group to come back [against the Senators on Saturday], tie that game up and get that point for us. Hopefully we can take that third-period mentality and take it to the other team, and take it to the last part of the season here. Every game is going to be a battle, especially against Carolina. They’re one point behind us right now and we’ve got them four times right now. Every battle on the ice is going to be big."
The Flyers need Elliott much like the Flames did a year ago. On Jan. 24, 2017, Calgary was 24-24-3 following a pathetic effort against the Canadiens, resulting in a 5-1 loss. Following that game, Elliott and the Flames were lights out over the next two months with a 17-3-1 stretch that propelled them into the playoffs. That’s the level of rock-solid consistency the Flyers are hoping to get out of Elliott over the final two months of this season.
“I guess it would be kind of similar,” Elliott said. “I think last season we were farther back then we are, so we’re in a really good spot right now. I know our destiny is in our hands. It can go in one of two ways. It’s a really thin line.”
Nothing is finer in Carolina
The Flyers will be staring plenty into the eyes of the Hurricanes between now and the end of the season. Tuesday, the Flyers and 'Canes face each other for the first time this season, and the first of four contests in the remaining 30 games of the schedule.
Even though the two teams are rubbing shoulders in the Metropolitan Division standings, they couldn’t be more far apart in their approach to Tuesday’s game at PNC Arena. Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters sounded alarm bells following a 3-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks Sunday, questioning the team’s character and wondering if complacency had crept into its game.
“We can't put that group out again after that. It's unacceptable,” Peters said, via the News & Observer. “They let each other down, too, in the room. That's not right.”
Hakstol believes a strong message can certainly light a fire under the Carolina players, and a regulation win would bump them past the Flyers in the standings.
“They're proud guys and they’re a good hockey team,” Hakstol said. “They’re in the playoff hunt for a reason and when you get a little push from within, their response will be there [Tuesday] night. Again, we control none of that and we have to have the focus on ourselves.”
Morin and Stolarz
Flyers defensive prospect Sam Morin and goaltender Anthony Stolarz skated together at the Skate Zone prior to Monday’s practice. Morin was seen taking shots on Stolarz as both players continue to progress in their return from injury.
Morin has been in and out of the Phantoms' lineup dealing with a myriad of injuries, mostly groin issues. He hasn’t played since the third period of the 2018 AHL Outdoor Classic at Hersheypark Stadium Jan. 20.
Stolarz is slowly working his way back from surgery to repair a meniscus tear in his left knee after sustaining the same injury to his right knee last season. General manager Ron Hextall stated the organization should have more clarity on Stolarz’s situation this month or even next month, but doesn’t expect him to play this season.