EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Brian Elliott admitted this Halloween was one he particularly didn’t want to miss with his 2-year-old son Owen trick-or-treating for the first time with family back in Wisconsin.
Owen is dressing up as Bob the Builder, an animated repairman who can fix just about anything.
Right now, Elliott’s “Bob the Builder” is trainer Jim McCrossin, who has helped the Flyers' No. 1 goaltender work his way back from the core muscle and offseason hip surgery over the summer months. Elliott and McCrossin were the last two men to leave Wednesday’s practice at the Toyota Center in El Segundo, California, well after the bus had left for the team hotel.
“The process is always ongoing," Elliott said. "That’s the art of professional sports is to make sure you’re in the best condition you can be for the next game and set yourself up for the long run."
Now at the age of 33 and after years of maintaining the same approach, Elliott is experimenting a little bit differently this season. He’s bypassing the morning skates before each start in an effort to alleviate the wear and tear.
“I’ve taken one pregame skate,” Elliott said. “I’m just trying to make sure I feel good going into [games]. Trying not to push it too much. Pregame skates are easy for a player to go out and give 60 percent and go through the motions. For a goalie, you’re at 100 percent the whole time. You don’t want to let pucks in and that’s when you start losing confidence. If you’re doing that day in and day out, a full season, it can add up to a lot of stress on your body.”
Compounding that stress has been the NHL’s changes to streamline the goalie equipment, which has left goaltenders exposed in certain areas. Columbus’ Sergei Bobrovsky told reporters he’s been afraid of pucks, especially during practices, when goalies are exposed to the repetition of more shots than during an actual game.
“It seems like every shot that you take that’s not clean on your blocker or in your glove, it’s leaving a mark," Elliott said. "They wanted more ‘form fitting,’ but when you have more form fitting, there’s no give. There’s no air between you and your pads, so the puck is hitting your pad and at the same time it’s hitting your bones and your flesh, so there’s no cushion. It’s just straight shots to your arms and I don’t agree with it."
But Elliott and the rest of the league have been forced to deal with it, and the Flyers' netminder appears to be finally settling in after a rough start that saw the Flyers ripped apart for eight goals in the home opener against the San Jose Sharks.
He’s also been the victim of a very porous penalty kill that ranks 30th in the NHL at 67.4 percent. Only Ottawa’s Craig Anderson has been touched up for more power-play goals than Elliott, who has allowed nine in his nine starts.
Whether it’s the product of the equipment or a slight uptick in goal scoring, scan across the league-wide numbers and you’ll even find some former Vezina Trophy winners who have struggled mightily out of the gate. The Kings' Jonathan Quick, the Capitals' Braden Holtby and Bobrovsky all have goals-against averages and save percentages worse than Elliott’s 3.23 and .889 marks.
With the Flyers tightening up their game defensively and cutting down on high-danger chances, they’re also starting to see a more consistent side to Elliott, who has a 2.27 goals-against average and .912 save percentage in his last four starts.
“It looks like he’s getting sharper,” general manager Ron Hextall said. “There’s times when he’s been sharp and other times when he hasn’t been right on top of it, and as a goalie it’s pretty noticeable when you’re not right on top of it. He’s certainly trending in the right direction.”
Whatever direction Elliott seems to be trending toward, the rest of the team usually follows.
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