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Flyers start Western Canada swing looking to repeat run from last year (good luck with that)

Last year, a trip to Western Canada changed the Flyers' season. This year? Stay tuned.

The Flyers desperately need goalie Brian Elliott to get healthy and return to the lineup.
The Flyers desperately need goalie Brian Elliott to get healthy and return to the lineup.Read moreCHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

A year ago the Flyers swept the Western Canada portion of their road schedule, ending a 10-game losing streak and jump-starting a massive turnaround.

Those victories — in Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver — started a six-game winning streak that triggered four months of excellence and a playoff spot.

It won’t be as easy duplicating their Western Canada magic this season.

That portion of their five-game road trip begins Wednesday in Calgary (19-10-2) against a high-scoring Flames team that has won five of six and is sitting atop the Pacific Division. The Flyers play in Edmonton (16-12-2) on Friday and in Vancouver (13-16-3) on Saturday.

The Calgary game will be the toughest challenge. Then again, when your goaltending and defense are struggling, every game is a challenge.

Led by Gloucester Catholic’s Johnny Gaudreau (39 points in 31 games), the Flames are tied for fifth in the NHL, averaging 3.45 goals per game. Their defense has also been superb, and is tied for fourth (2.71 goals allowed per game).

The Flyers are 29th in the NHL, yielding 3.61 goals per game. Their save percentage is at .879, last in the league.

The Flyers (12-13-3), despite their flaws, are only five points out of a Metropolitan Division playoff spot and they have a game in hand on the third-place New York Islanders.

“You just have to play good, solid consistent hockey,” fourth-year Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said when asked what it would take for his team to make another turnaround. “There’s no magic to the game in any shape or form.”

Brian Elliott keyed last year’s turnaround, and he is close to returning from an apparent groin injury, perhaps during this trip.

Elliottt, who hasn’t played since Nov. 15, allowed two goals or fewer in his last seven appearances, so, yes, he is needed. Elliott has a 2.59 goals-against average and .911 save percentage.

Anthony Stolarz (3.39, .898) has played better than his stats look – his numbers are inflated because most of his teammates stopped playing after he relieved a shelled Michal Neuvirth in Sunday’s 7-1 loss in Winnipeg.

Neuvirth (6.17 GAA, .719 save percentage), who looks like he’s nearing the end of his time with the Flyers, is the other goalie on the roster. In Neuvirth’s only two games this season, the Flyers have lost by a combined 13-2 margin.

So where do the Flyers go from here?

Well, new GM Chuck Fletcher, who made a great trade and turned around Minnesota’s season when he dealt a third-round pick to Arizona for goalie Devan Dubnyk during the middle of the 2014-15 season, is still trying to figure out what he inherited. He is on the trip and getting a first-hand look at the players and who he believes fits in and who doesn’t.

The NHL has a holiday roster/trade freeze from Dec. 19-27, but when it ends, don’t be surprised if Fletcher adds a veteran defenseman who can stabilize things.

For now, the team desperately needs Elliott to return to good health – and the form that, before a core-muscle injury, carried the team during their 2017-18 turnaround.

From Dec. 4 until the end of the regular season, the Flyers had the NHL’s fifth-most points a year ago.

Can such a turnaround repeat itself?

Stay tuned.