It’s no secret that the Philadelphia Flyers have been killing it with drafting young assets the past few seasons. General Manager Ron Hextall has been a geneious when it comes to drafting top tier talent. For the past two years, the Flyers were given an “A,” by analysts when it comes to drafting. The orange and black continue to show the NHL world why they were voted by hockeyinsiders.net as having the best farm system in the NHL. Moreover, they have been showing off their great farm system assets throughout training camp and the pre-season.
With the hype of the youth infusion surrounding the orange and black. Many people forgot about one of the most scrutinized positions in Flyers history…Goaltending. Unfortunately, the Flyers haven’t had a great goaltender well since former President Ronald Reagan was in office. The Flyers made a big splash on the opening day of free agency by inking netminder Brian Elliott to a 2-year $5.5 million deal. Elliott is a goaltender who is familiar with playing in a tandem. With back-up netminder Michal Neuvirth more than capable of fulfilling goaltending duties when called upon. Both goaltenders seemed primed and ready for the season to get started. Well, they have not let anyone down as of yet. For all the rightful criticism this position has seen in prior years, let’s breakdown the terrific play of both netminders through the first three games of the season.
A young netminder in Elliott signed a one-year deal with the St. Louis Blues on July 1, 2011. He revitalized his career, while forming a good goaltending tandem with Jaroslav Halak. Elliott posted a 23-10-4 record with a whopping 1.56 GAA. For his efforts he was chosen to the 2012 NHL All-Star game.
The steady netminder, Elliott received a three-year contract extension following the 2013-14 season. His annual salary had a cap hit of $2.5 million. For the season he posted an 18-6-2 record, 1.96 GAA, and a .922 Save Percentage.
Fresh off his new contract, Elliott had a phenomenal 2015-16 season. He posted a 23-8-6 record, and led the Blues to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2001. However, the Blues luck ran out as they lost in six games to the San Jose Sharks.
During the 2016 NHL Draft, the Blues shockingly dealt Elliott to the Calgary Flames. In just his first season with the Flames, he took them to the playoffs in 2016-17. For the season he posted a 26-18-3 record, 2.55 GAA, and a .910 save percentage. However, he was told at season’s end that he was not going to return to the Flames, thus making him an unrestricted free agent.
The Flyers were in desperate need of an upgrade in-goal, and they officially announced the signing of Elliott on July 1, 2017. It is a two-year deal worth $5.5 million. Shortly after the signing Hextall gave many reasons why the Flyers signed Elliott in a conference call to the press.
“He’s got a really good work ethic. He’s played in a tandem in St. Louis, prior to Calgary. Brian fit the criteria. Brian being available played into the change. Mason did a real good job for us for a number of years here. We wish him nothing but the best.”
In reality, the Flyers are hoping that Elliott regains his form from when he donned a Blues sweater. For instance, in the 2015-16 season for the Blues, Elliott posted a 23-8-6 record, 2.07 GAA, and a .930 save percentage. Hextall is confident in Elliott to do the same for the Flyers.
“When I was out in LA there, we played against him in the playoffs. First of all you do your homework, learn everything about the kid. He’s a team guy which is important. His work ethic is at a high level. His compete is at a high level. Brian checked off a lot of those boxes.”
Hextall continued, “He played well in a tandem. Brian was the best fit. All goalies struggle that’s why we feel comfortable with Brian and Neuvy.”
Elliott has looked very comfortable donning a Flyers sweater. He looks extremely dialed in, while beating two very tough opponents in the San Jose Sharks and the Anaheim Ducks. Elliott has moved post to post very quickly, and has flashed the glove at times. In his first two games as a Flyer, he has posted a 2-0 record, 2.50 GAA, and a .914 Save Percentage. He has been nothing short of terrific in his brief stint with the Flyers, and it makes Hextall look like a geneious for signing him.
It could be said that if it wasn’t for his stellar play within the first ten minutes of the game on the road against San Jose, then the game could have ended up differently. Maybe the youth infusion has reignited his flame for success. Whatever the reason maybe, let’s hope his good fortune continues.
Neuvirth signed a two-year deal with the Flyers in 2015. In his first season with the orange and black he posted an 18-8-4 record, 2.27 GAA, and .924 Save Percentage. Neuvirth also guided the Flyers to an unexpected playoff berth, where he was just flat out phenomenal in 3 games played against the Washington Capitals. For the playoffs Neuvirth posted a 2-1 record, .67 GAA, and a .981 Save Percentage. The Flyers eventually fell to the Capitals in 6 games, but Neuvirth proved to the Flyers he could handle pressure.
The Former Capitals goaltender, Neuvirth had his ups and downs in 2016-17. He finished the season with an 11-11-1 record, 2.82 GAA, and a .891 Save Percentage. Neuvirth signed a shocking two-year $5 million contract extension on March 1, 2017, to remain with the Flyers. Exactly one month later, Neuvirth collapsed on the ice during a game against the New York Islanders. Apparently, his symptoms were due to dehydration as he was released from the hospital the next day. Rookie goaltender Anthony Stolarz did finish the game en route to a Flyers 3-0 victory.
Let’s not forget Neuvirth’s numbers from last season are not very good from a veteran goaltenders standpoint. He will tell you that he could have made one more save. The Flyers finished the season with the 9th worst goals against per game, with an average GAA of 2.85. These numbers could have been a lot worse if it was not for the stellar play of rookie goaltender Stolarz. Stolarz finished the year 2-1-1 with a 2.10 GAA, and a .928 Save Percentage.
The Flyers as a team ranked 18th out of 30 teams with 236 goals against. They scored 219 goals for, giving them a -17 goal differential. These numbers have to improve next season make no mistake about it. Neuvirth may see a lot of action this coming season, as General Manager Ron Hextall is in favor of a goaltending tandem with he and Brian Elliott. The 28 year old goaltender in Neuvirth has to become more consistent, and remain healthy for a full-season. He has decent career regular season numbers with a 95-82-22 record, 2.68 GAA, and a .911 Save Percentage. However, Neuvirth is great in the playoffs by posting a 6-6 record, 1.92 GAA, and a .933 Save Percentage, so it shows he can handle the big stage.
Neuvirth had his cards stacked against him coming into this season, make no mistake about it. Of course, he wanted to show the fans of Philadelphia he could be a reliable goaltender. Like the one that carried the Flyers in the 2015-16 playoff series against the Washington Capitals.
In his first start of the season, Neuvirth was lights out in a 2-0 loss to the Los Angeles Kings. He made 25 saves on 27 shots faced. Moreover, Neuvirth potentially has the save of the year, while making a post to post sprawling glove hand save on Anze Kopitar. If not for Neuvirth, the orange and black could have easily lost the game 6-0. Neuvirth did all he could to keep the Flyers within striking distance of finding some much needed offense. However, it was just too much coming off a solid win against the Sharks the night before. After suffering this defeat against the Kings Neuvirth has a 2.03 GAA, and a solid Save Percentage of .926. Hopefully, Neuvirth can stay healthy for once, and can be relied upon when his number gets called to start.
Neuvirth with a save of the year candidate, in game #2. pic.twitter.com/w2dvTkhNLH
— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) October 6, 2017
Hextall means business this coming season, and now he has a quality number one goaltender. There is no reason why Elliott can’t regain his form from his St. Louis Blues days. If Neuvirth stays healthy this season, then the goaltending could really end up being a strong point for once. Within the next few seasons this classy organization is going to transform into a Stanley Cup contender, that is tough to beat on a nightly basis. One thing is certain the future is bright in Flyer land.
Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports