Will we see NHL hockey this summer? If we do, the Philadelphia Flyers are well-positioned to finish what they started.
On Tuesday, Pierre LeBrun of TSN and The Athletic said that we might soon get word on how a hockey restart would look.
The NHL-NHLPA Return To Play Committee has had constant dialogue, one way or another (email/calls) every day since Saturday whether in the larger group or smaller group. So there's a focus to try and get there. The hope is for resolution over the next 7-10 days but no guarantee
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) May 19, 2020
Health and safety concerns regarding play during the COVID-19 pandemic are front and center. Logistical issues also come into play.
Whatever gets decided, the Flyers were one of the hottest teams in the league when the NHL was paused on March 12. Two days earlier, they’d lost their first game in nearly a month when they were shut out by the Boston Bruins.
Deadline Derek Delivers
At the trade deadline, the Flyers added depth with the bargain acquisitions of impending UFAs Derek Grant and Nate Thompson.
Post-deadline, Philadelphia ranked second in the league with an average of 3.71 goals scored per game. Grant, a 30-year-old journeyman, skated as a third-line center with Scott Laughton and Tyler Pitlick and saw time on both the power play and the penalty kill. Averaging a career-high 14:16 of ice time, he picked up five points in seven games.
Hart & Elliott Work In Tandem
The Flyers were also third-best in the league defensively over that span, averaging just 1.86 goals against. Carter Hart went 5-1-0 with a .939 save percentage, giving up less than three goals in five of those six games. In his lone start, backup Brian Elliott delivered a 5-2 win over the Washington Capitals.
In his 43 games this season, Hart proved that his impressive rookie campaign was no fluke. He posted a 24-13-3 record with a 2.42 goals-against average and .914 save percentage. His best hockey came after he returned from an abdominal injury in February. In the month before the NHL season was paused, he was 9-2-0 with a .934 save percentage and 1.93 GAA.
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The goaltenders are perfect examples of how the Flyers have succeeded this year — as a team. During the nine games that Hart was injured, Elliott didn’t flinch under a heavy workload. The 35-year-old put together a 5-1-1 record. In his one tough outing, he gave up five goals in 44 minutes against the New Jersey Devils.
In recent years, Elliott has been plagued by injury trouble, but he has stayed healthy this season. With a 16-7-4 record, he has delivered wins while also providing Hart with the rest he needs.
Remarkably, Elliott is the only Flyer to be named one of the NHL’s Three Stars of the Week this season. He picked up third-star honors in late October, going 3-0-0 in four appearances as he helped Philadelphia pick up wins over the Vegas Golden Knights, Chicago Blackhawks and Columbus Blue Jackets, then shut the door against the New York Islanders in a 28-minute relief appearance.
With two goalies they can count on, the Philadelphia Flyers are well-positioned to handle whatever structure the NHL’s restart might present.
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Mastering Momentum Is Key
When the season was paused, the Flyers’ 89 points had them one point behind Washington atop the Metropolitan Division. They sat fourth in the Eastern Conference standings and sixth overall in the league.
During a conference call with reporters in late April, Flyers coach Alain Vigneault said teams that want to go deep in the playoffs must get better as the year goes on. He believes the Philadelphia Flyers are well-positioned to do so.
“I believe that’s what we were doing in all aspects of our game,” he said, “our 5-on-5 play, our special-teams play, our defensive play and offensive play.”
“We were getting better individually and getting better as a group. That enables you to get a chance, to get into the playoffs and have a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup.”
The coach’s next challenge will be to find a way to re-capture that momentum — if and when his players are able to get back on the ice.
“There’s no doubt that we were playing our best hockey of the season at the time (of the pause),” said Vigneault. “I don’t think we can go into this showing any signs of emotional frustration. It will be all our jobs, from coaches to management to players, to get back to that good spot that we were in.”