When the Flyers acquired goalie Cam Talbot from Edmonton on Feb. 15, it was fair to wonder if Brian Elliott, who was then on a rehab stint with the AHL’s Phantoms, would ever play another game for the Flyers.
Three weeks later, the goalie they call “Moose” is one of the main reasons the Flyers have stayed in the Eastern Conference wild-card race.
“He’s been great,” center Sean Couturier said after the team’s practice Tuesday in Voorhees. “He’s been through a lot, a long recovery, and he seems to be at the top of his game. He’s making some big saves and giving us a chance to win every night. You can’t ask for much more from a goalie.”
Elliott will get the start Wednesday when the Flyers host the defending Stanley Cup-champion Washington Capitals. The Flyers, who are on a 16-3-2 run, will face the Caps three times in their last 16 games. The Capitals won the only previous meeting this season, 5-3, Jan. 8 in Washington, with Mike McKenna in goal for the Flyers.
“There’s a lot of firepower over there,” said Elliott, mindful that Alex Ovechkin (league-high 45 goals) leads a team that is seventh in the NHL with an average of 3.36 goals. “You sometimes have to weather their storm and then come back with a storm of your own.”
“They’re a good team, a skilled team,” defenseman Ivan Provorov said. “But our main focus is to play our game. If we play our game, we’ll be fine.”
Elliott, who missed a little more than three months with a suspected core-muscle injury, has played beyond expectations for the Flyers since returning to the ice Feb. 19. In six appearances since his return, Elliott is 3-0-1, along with two no-decisions in relief of Carter Hart. He has a 2.28 goals-against average and .936 save percentage in that span.
Back when Talbot was acquired, Elliott was looking rusty with the Phantoms. At the time, Hart had become the Flyers’ No. 1 goalie, and Talbot, who works out with Hart over the summers, looked like he would become the No. 2.
But Talbot had visa problems that delayed his arrival in Philadelphia, and Elliott was recalled after having a 3.47 GAA and .877 save percentage in two games with the Phantoms. After two relief appearances, he started the Stadium Series game against Pittsburgh on Feb. 23. With Hart sidelined by an ankle injury, Elliott has carried the load since that epic comeback victory, a 4-3 overtime win over the Penguins.
“When the goalie is going [well], it’s much easier for the players to play overall,” Provorov said.
Interim coach Scott Gordon, a former NHL goalie, said Elliott was able to shake off his rust in his two-game stint with the Phantoms, saying he “got his feet back under him.”
“I didn’t want to come back before I felt ready, and I felt ready,” Elliott said of his time in Lehigh Valley. “I wanted to feel pucks and scrambles and come up here and try it out.”
Elliott, the Flyers’ likely starter in all three games this week, credited his teammates for helping his revival.
“How the guys have been playing of late, and our structure — and blocking shots — has [been key],” he said. “I mean, it sounds like a cliché to say it, but it’s kind of the answer. If everyone is doing the job, it makes your job a lot easier. You can focus on just stopping the puck and everybody else takes care of the rest.”
Elliott, who will turn 34 on April 9, can become an unrestricted free agent July 1. Is he playing himself into the plans of the Flyers or another team?