TORONTO — The Flyers have won six times this season, and in five of those victories their goalie with the much better statistics was not between the pipes.
You can call it luck if you want or you can say Brian Elliott has been given the easier matchups. But four of the five teams Elliott has wins against — Anaheim, Washington, Edmonton, and Toronto — were playoff teams last season. And the other, San Jose, reached the Stanley Cup Finals two Junes ago.
Even with his 28-save performance in Saturday's 4-2 victory over Toronto, Elliott currently ranks 51st among all NHL goalies in save percentage (.885) and 42nd in goals-against average (3.14). Even with the lemon he delivered in the Flyers 5-4 loss to Ottawa on Thursday, Michal Neuvirth is 19th in save percentage (.925) and 13th in goals-against average (2.30).
Maybe it's just one of those quirky statistics, Elliott playing when the team brought its A game that night. Of the 38 goals the Flyers have scored this season, 29 have come with him in the net. The Flyers have scored nine goals in the four games Michal Neuvirth has played in.
But try this alternate theory out. Elliott plays a significantly different style than Neuvirth does, one that may fit the current makeup of the Flyers right now better than Neuvirth's does. Specifically, he tends to freeze the puck even if there is little clear and present danger to compel him to do so.
As he said after the Flyers beat Toronto, 4-2, Saturday night, "Sometimes it's just there and I pounce on it.''
"You can sense when you need a change,'' he said. "Or if we need to slow things down, or keep it going.''
He can at least. Elliott's clear intangible advantage in this young season is his ability to read and stabilize a Flyers defense that was green and unfamiliar with each other even before injuries took away two mainstays.
Saturday night, after Shayne Gostisbehere could not play beyond the second period because of what many fear is a head injury, Elliott quarterbacked a spirited effort that protected a two-goal lead against the NHL's most potent offense. He made 12 saves, but more important were the nine times he stopped play in the final period — four times in the final six minutes, when the undermanned Flyers clearly needed as many breathers as they could get.
"When we're up a couple of goals and guys are getting gassed back there, you need to freeze it as much as possible,'' said Elliott, who has played 379 games over an NHL career that began in 2007.
Such awareness, while not unique, does tend to separate goaltenders. Some play as specialists, some exist within the game, and the Stanley Cup is filled with names from both columns, and guys named Brodeur and Parent who could fit both. "My goalie coach in St. Louis, Jim Corsi, used to say you're a hockey player first and a goalie second,'' Elliott said with a broad smile on his face.
Corsi is the author of hockey's most referenced metric. But this is about the mind, not the numbers.
"You do have to understand everyone's thoughts out there,'' said Elliott, "and if they're at the end of a shift or whatever.''
After a Sunday off, the Flyers resume their schedule Monday with a home game against Arizona. It's hard to imagine Ghost in that game, which means we will finally see Samuel Morin in the big club's lineup for the first time this season.
It may also mean we will see Brian Elliott again. Because of his one favorable statistic, the only one that really matters.