He's No.1. If there was any doubt before, there is none now. Brian Elliott has grabbed ownership of the goaltending position despite the team's struggles to close out and win games.
There's a simple reason for it, something he referenced to me after his win in Toronto back in late October. Jim Corsi, his old goaltender coach in St. Louis, often reminded the University of Wisconsin star that goaltenders needed to be hockey players first, goaltenders second.
What does that mean? It means not playing the game in a bubble. If your team is scrambling in its own end and you have a chance to stop play, you do it. If your team looks tired, you freeze it if you can, too. And if you allow a bad goal or two, you keep your head in the game and try to hold them off until your team can regroup.
Elliott was superb throughout last night's game, stopping 35 shots. His most impressive work came after the Flyers checked out for awhile after Jake Voracek's power-play goal tied the game 3-3 at the 13:54 mark of the second period. Particularly of note: A sprawling save on Josh Bailey trying to finish off a 2-on-1 with John Tavares. Big saves on Josh Nelson and Jordan Eberle.
And finally, those aforementioned freezes at critical times. A hockey player.
Travis's totally awesome shift. Travis Sanheim's work on the Flyers early goal was the kind of stuff that calms cranky GMs and soothes coaches. First, he kept the zone possession with a steal a few feet inside the blueline. Later, he made a keep along the blueline, sending it back down behind the goal line.
Later still, he beat Joshua Ho-Sang to a puck to again keep it, followed the puck to the opposite side of the ice, firing a shot that Taylor Leier pushed in for a much-needed goal from that line.
The kids are all right. Samuel Morin and Danick Martel did exactly what you hope call-ups do: Provide an early spark, make a few unnerving mistakes, and contribute more than they detract.
Martel had an early breakaway that he nearly converted and finished with three shots on goal. Morin had some big hits and an effective stick and two penalties – a delay of game and mid-ice interference that smacked of NHL inexperience.
Better to be lucky than good. Michael Raffl, who once scored 21 goals in a season, is an honest player with an unrelenting work ethic and attitude – who has had some bad luck in going 0-fer in points over the first 21 games of this season. So it was great to see him get his first goal via a little puck luck, a fortuitous break springing him for a second-period breakaway in which his backhand caught only the post – but then bounced off the sprawled skate of Islanders goaltender Thomas Greiss and into the net.
Raffl, by the way, finished with six shots on goal. He also singlehandedly dominated his final regulation shift of regulation amid a final push in which the Flyers took the final seven shots on goal.
Are you kidding me? Hooking? Really? It's hard enough to swallow the NHL's overzealous enforcement of slashing penalties this season, but Wes McCauley's second-period hooking call on Ivan Provorov– which led to Morin's delay of game penalty trying to make a penalty kill clear – makes a mockery of this as a sport. Provorov lost the puck near the top of the circle, but any contact his stick made with Casey Cizikas as he swooped behind the Flyers net was just so inconsequential – and certainly not a hook.
That power play, against a team that has now allowed seven power play goals in their last eight periods of play, sent one of the Flyers mainstays on the PK off the ice and forced the utilization of Morin.
After making two nice plays to break up passes, Morin launched a backhander so far into the stands that Flyers players on the bench jumped comically trying to bring it back into play. The delay of game call led to a 5-on-3 and the Islanders tied the game at 2 shortly after.
Good good, bad bad, good, bad.
Repeat after me, this is a team in transition.