Goalie Controversy? – Observations from Flyers 5, Devils 3

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Photo credit: © Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

After getting embarrassed by the Boston Bruins in a 6-1 rout, the Philadelphia Flyers needed a bounce back game in the biggest way. They needed to wash off the stench of that loss. Head coach Alain Vigneault opted to give his backup netminder Brian Elliott the start – just his second of the season – to right the ship. That decision paid off in a big way on Tuesday night.

Let’s get into everything that went right and what continues to go wrong for the Flyers.

A Goalie Controversy?

No. If sports talk radio were to give any time to the team, it would likely go something like this:

Caller: Hi, um, long-time listener, first time caller.

Host: Thanks for the call.

Caller: How’s it going?

Host: Good, what’s on your mind?

Caller: I think the Flyers should send Carter Hart to Lehigh Valley. He doesn’t look good.

Host: You might be right. Wasn’t this Hart kid supposed to be the second coming of Pelle Lindbergh? I don’t see it.

Caller: Yeah. Brian Elliott should start every game. Give Ustimenko a shot. Anyway, thanks for taking my call.

Host: You got it, bo.

Maybe it’s a good thing the Flyers aren’t a hot-button topic on sports talk radio. First, Kirill Ustimenko is expected to miss most of if not the entire season following surgery on a torn labrum in his hip. Second, the notion of starting Brian Elliott in the majority of games going forward is also goofy, but I’ll get to that in a second. The idea of sending Hart back down to Lehigh Valley to find his game has been tweeted at me in consecutive games. That’s lunacy.

Let’s bring it back to Brian Elliott for a minute. Elliott’s been everything and more he’s paid to be as a 35-year-old backup netminder. After being called into action when the Buffalo Sabres chased Hart from his net, Elliott was called upon to start the second game against Buffalo, posting a 40-save shutout.

He was solid against the Devils until the defense had a typical breakdown late in the third, leading to New Jersey’s third goal. Elliott made 23 saves on 26 shots. The Devils aren’t an offensive juggernaut by any stretch, scoring the second-fewest goals in the division, albeit with one fewer game played than half the division.

Regardless, Elliott had put together a really strong performance until he got beat five-hole on a trickler with 8:01 left in the second:

That should’ve been covered and Elliott thought he’d squeezed it. It happens.

The Devils’ second goal was a beauty with a screen in front:

Elliott had no chance. The third goal with 1:08 remaining has as much to do with the Flyers’ inability to clear the zone – and eventually the crease – as Elliott for allowing a rebound. If anything, it was a somewhat lackadaisical effort by the Orange & Black, who had just seen Ivan Provorov connect on a long-range empty netter to ice the game.

So how could there be a goalie controversy? After tweeting that I had a hot take I didn’t want to unleash on Flyers Twitter, I put this out:

Reading comprehension isn’t a strong-suit for some on Twitter, and I don’t expect everyone to read every Flyers story I write. The main takeaway here is that the Flyers got no worse of a performance from a 35-year-old backup than they would’ve gotten from their 22-year-old franchise goalie, the same guy many fans and some pundits thought could be a dark horse candidate for the Vezina Trophy!

If that’s not remotely concerning to you as a Flyers fan, I don’t know what to tell you. My argument is pretty simple. It’s a 56-game season. Through seven games, Carter Hart has started five and Brian Elliot has started two. If the Flyers want to contend long-term, they need to let Hart work his way out of whatever’s been plaguing him. He’s allowed at least four goals in three straight starts. If there’s ever a time to go to a closer, 60/40 tandem, it’s this season.

Hart should be given every opportunity to be the guy. But, this is also why you have a veteran backup. Just in case. This isn’t a goalie controversy. However, those who would have you believe that Hart’s infallible and should be rolled out game after game with the same results should look back to a year ago.

In 2019-20, Carter Hart had a stellar 1.63 GAA with a .943 SV% in 25 games played at Wells Fargo Center. In road games, those numbers ballooned to 3.81 GAA and .857 SV%, respectively. There are no fans in the stands, so there’s no true home ice advantage. But, it’s worth keeping an eye on going forward.

By the way, none of this takes away from the fact that the defense has been bad. I wrote about it over the weekend. I don’t believe the current personnel model is sustainable as the Flyers take on better competition in this division. Both Hart and Elliott are being put in bad positions at the moment.

JVResurgent

If there’s been one major story concerning a veteran player to take away from the last few games, it’s the resurgence of James van Riemsdyk as a scoring threat. The soon-to-be 32-year-old wing has four goals over his last three games including two on Tuesday night:

Nice to see Ivan Provorov getting active on the powerplay, especially since he made a mistake that nearly went the other way for a goal.

They followed up the first with this hookup in the second period:

Kudos to JVR, who looks like the guy Ron Hextall signed to a 5-year, $35 million deal.

Young Players Step Up

It’s been a bit of a narrative thing to start the season, but a number of young players have stepped up big time to take pressure off the team’s veteran core. Nolan Patrick’s go-ahead goal came with seven minutes gone in the third period:

Six minutes later, Joel Farabee, who’d struggled to get on the scoresheet since a 4-point performance against the Penguins, scored what ended up being the game-winning goal:

Provorov Rewarded for a Better Night

Ivan Provorov finally got back to playing with his partner from training camp, Shayne Gostisbehere, which is deserving of its own post later. Not only did Provorov have two assists, but he got to effectively ice the game from distance:

Giroux Passes Clarke

It’s always nice to make a bit of history in a win. It makes the feat that much more memorable. Tuesday night’s victory marked Claude Giroux’s 611th game as the captain of the Philadelphia Flyers, moving him into sole possession of most games played as captain, passing Hockey Hall of Famer Bobby Clarke:

Giroux contributed two critical assists in this game, giving him 564 helpers for his career. He’s got quite a way to go to match Clarke’s 852 assists for the top spot on the team’s all-time list.

For more Flyers coverage, follow Snow The Goalie on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Also be sure to tune into The Press Row Show as Anthony SanFilippo and Russ Joy provide pregame and intermission coverage of every Flyers home game from press row of the Wells Fargo Center via the Crossing Broad Facebook page, YouTube Live, and Twitter, and their Twitter accounts   

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