December 08, 2017
A few weeks ago, this was a listing ship. Flyers’ fans were looking for coach Dave Hakstol’s ouster. The Wells Fargo Center had empty seats. The team was met by boos when they left their home ice last week.
They had good reason. The Flyers looked headed for nowhere, losers of 10-straight games and seemed destined for another year out of the playoffs.
But now, already having won more games in the first week of December than the entire month of November, there appears to be some hope. The Flyers are currently riding a three-game winning streak after finishing their Western Canada road swing through Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver. It marked the first Flyers sweep of Western Canadian teams since the 2013-14 season — and the first time in over 20 years the Flyers won all three games in regulation (Dec. 27-31, 1996).
The one true positive constant — through the winning and the losing — has been goaltender Brian Elliott.
In the Flyers’ 5-4 overtime loss on Nov. 27 to the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, Elliott made a career-high 47 saves. He was still prone to let up the occasional soft goal, though overall, he’s been a major reason why the Flyers are still afloat this season.
During the road trip, Elliott has been steady, mixed with sporadic remarkable flashes. In the Flyers’ 4-1 win over Vancouver, Elliott’s 200th career victory, he was once again a rock. In a game of odd momentum shifts early on, Elliott made nine saves while the Flyers struggled to find offense in the first period. He stoned Markus Granlund on a Vancouver power play three minutes into the game. And while the Flyers were looking to preserve a 3-1 lead in the opening two minutes of the third, Elliott once again shown through by saving a shot from Canucks’ leading scorer Brock Boeser.
“The first 10 minutes of this hockey game [against Vancouver], you knew they were going to come with a push,” Hakstol said. “There’s no question Brian was an absolute rock back there. He gave us a chance to get going in the second half of that period.”
Hakstol has juggled the lines, which seems to have helped, moving Wayne Simmonds to the first line with Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier, and dropping Jake Voracek to the second line, with Valtteri Filppula and Michael Raffl, whose games has opened up with three goals over the last three games. Raffl’s five goals this season have come over the last eight games, and each of his goals over the three-game road trip proved to be the game-winning goals.
But Hakstol refuted the changes have had anything to do with the Flyers’ recent success.
“I’ll be honest, the little tweaks and changes that we made aren’t the difference maker in the results, it’s the players,” Hakstol said. “The players have continued to push. Even when things got a little bit tough and a little bit tight, there were a couple of nights when we became our own worst enemy.
“We made some mistakes that cost us points or cost us games. But everyone was able to have a short memory on those things and really come back to work the next day, and try to push for the right result. It gets frustrating when you don’t get that result, but this group didn’t allow that to drag them down.”
As long as Elliott was there to hold them up.
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