Looking ahead to the upcoming season, it appears the Philadelphia Flyers will have a much younger and more skilled lineup for their season opener in San Jose on October 4. Nolan Patrick, who the Flyers drafted with the second pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, and Oskar Lindblom are two rookie forwards expected to make the team. On defense, at least two of the four top defensive prospects for the Flyers (Sam Morin, Robert Hagg, Travis Sanheim, Philippe Myers) are expected to make the team as well. Add in a more experienced Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov, and this 2017 Flyers roster looks to be much more exciting than any in recent memory.
There is one unit that General Manager Ron Hextall did not inject much excitement into this offseason… the goaltending.
Uncertainty at the goalie position has haunted this franchise for decades. This year will be no different, as fans have no choice but to look forward to the lackluster goalie tandem of Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth. While neither goalie should really excite fans, can the tandem be good enough for this team to reach the postseason?
Yes, it can be.
Hextall is clearly just buying time with these two goaltenders until at least one of their star goalie prospects, Carter Hart and Felix Sandstrom, are ready for the NHL. While neither Brian Elliott nor Michal Neuvirth are star goaltenders (or even close to it), the tandem together can be solid enough to give this team a chance at the postseason.
Brian Elliott has been most successful in his career when he is part of a platoon, playing between 31 and 42 games. Take a look at his three best seasons in his career (by save percentage) and the number of games played in each:
Brian Elliott’s 3 Best Seasons (by Save %):
|Season||Games Played||GAA||Save %||Shutouts|
Elliott had his three best seasons by save percentage when he was part of a platoon, playing between 31 and 42 games. Whether it was Jaroslav Halak or Jake Allen as his goalie partner, the numbers clearly show Elliott’s best work is when he shares the crease in a part-time role.
As for Michal Neuvirth, his inability to stay healthy has kept him from anything more than a platoon role throughout his career. His best save percentage for a season in which he played at least 15 games came in 2015-16, his first with the Flyers. Neuvirth was incredible with a .924 save percentage and a playoff performance for the ages against his former team, the Washington Capitals. Last season, he played in just 28 games and had a league-worst .891 save percentage. As the second option to Elliott in a platoon, the Flyers can hope Neuvirth plays closer to his 2015-16 form than his play last season.
With Brian Elliott playing no more than 45 games, Michal Neuvirth playing around 30, and Anthony Stolarz making a trip up from the Lehigh Valley Phantoms to cover the remaining few games if (when) Neuvirth gets injured, the team may get enough out of their goaltending to have a realistic chance at the postseason.
The wildcard factor in these predictions is how well the rest of the team plays in front of the goalies. With a young defensive unit that will include at least two rookies, the coverage may have some lapses from time to time during the early part of the season. If the goaltending is good enough to make up for those early coverage mistakes by the young defensemen, and if the forwards can find some consistency with their scoring production, then expect to see the Flyers competing for a playoff spot. While nothing spectacular, the goalie tandem of Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth may be just enough for this team to sneak into the postseason next April.
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