There’s a nursery rhyme aspect to the Flyers' goaltending position this season.
Something resembling Humpty Dumpty where (until recently) no matter who’s sitting atop that wall, it’s just a matter of time before they endure a great fall.
Brian Elliott is now attempting to climb back up that wall with a bandaged eggshell following another core muscle injury he suffered in a game against the Devils on Nov. 15.
The 33-year-old goaltender has ramped up his activity level to where he’s a full participant in practice, and on Thursday, head coach Scott Gordon said there’s a possibility that Elliott could see game action next week — more than likely with the Phantoms.
“There’s a lot of things that factor into it,” Gordon said, “To me, there’s no right or wrong. it’s just a feel and what feels right for the situation.”
Elliott is an unrestricted free agent and doesn’t appear to factor into next season’s plans, but on a personal level, he’s looking for employment beyond this season while proving he can be a serviceable goaltender for a team looking for help.
“I’m confident enough that I could step in,” Elliott said. “With how the team is rolling, it would be nice to get a feel for games. It’s a thing we’re talking about right now. I definitely want to be sure to take the necessary precautions to be ready and eventually help the team win some games games down the stretch here.”
Unfortunately for Elliott, the timing for him couldn’t be any worse. The Flyers have been playing their best hockey utilizing the tandem of Carter Hart and Anthony Stolarz. That duo has combined for an unthinkable .940 save percentage over their last 11 games (9-1-1), helping the Flyers cut their playoff deficit from 15 point back in mid-January to just eight points as of Friday morning.
NBC analyst and former Flyers goaltender Brian Boucher has been part of a similar three-way timeshare, and firmly believes that if it’s not broke, why fix it, or even touch it.
“To me, you’re chipping away at valuable NHL experience, so I would continue to play those guys (Hart and Stolarz). That’s your future, that’s what you’re looking at,” Boucher said after watching Friday’s practice at the SkateZone. “If you want to send Elliott for a game or two in the minors to see how he responds, you can do that.”
Unless the Flyers package someone in a trade before the deadline, the team is expected keep three goaltenders on the active roster for the remainder of the regular season. It’s not ideal, but that’s the reality of a goaltending situation that has been unsettling for most of this season.
When the Flyers' braintrust ultimately chooses to give Elliott a start will not be an easy decision, and certainly not one that will be met with a favorable response. The fans have generated a buzz at the Wells Fargo Center recently, and feel a lifeline to the future of Flyers goaltending.
The perfect scenario would be to get Elliott that first start somewhere on the road, and more importantly, at a time in the schedule that wouldn’t disrupt the Flyers' current playoff push.
Otherwise, it could feel like walking on eggshells.
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