Should the Flyers stick with Brian Elliott for Game 2?

8 Comments

PITTSBURGH — Well that was emphatic.

The Pittsburgh Penguins sent quite a message in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference playoff series against the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday night with a 7-0 win that featured a Sidney Crosby hat trick, a highlight reel goal from Evgeni Malkin, a four-point night from Jake Guentzel, and, completely sliding under the radar in the midst of the offensive onslaught, a third consecutive playoff shutout for starting goalie Matt Murray.

While the Penguins were lighting up the scoreboard, the Flyers were searching for answers.

One of the questions they have to find answer for before Game 2 on Friday is a familiar one for anyone that has followed Flyers hockey for the better part of the past three decades: Just what in the heck are they going to do in goal?

It would be unfair to pin all of the blame for the Game 1 loss on goalies Brian Elliott and Petr Mrazek because the Flyers … well … they weren’t good.

Captain Claude Giroux called it “one of the worst games” he had ever been a part of.

Still, goaltending was a big part of the story and Elliott was not sharp on Wednesday, resulting in coach Dave Hakstol pulling him after giving up five goals on 19 shots. Some of the goals were a bit out of his control.

On one, Carl Hagelin was left alone in front of the net to perfectly redirect a Patric Hornqvist shot into the net.

On another, Crosby scored on a no-look mid-air swat that is just one of those things that happens when Sidney Crosby is on the ice. Not much a goalie can do about that stuff.

But the first goal was the result of a juicy rebound Elliott left for Bryan Rust in the middle of the ice, and while Malkin cut through the Flyers’ defense for the third goal in spectacular fashion, the shot itself was one that Elliott should probably stop.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

The reason it is such a debate is because the Flyers are once again in a position without a clear-cut No. 1 starter with Elliott, Michael Neurvith, and Mrazek all splitting the time this season, and all providing equal levels of mediocre play.

It is a vicious cycle that keeps repeating itself every single year. The names change. The story stays the same.

For Elliott, it was an up-and-down season when he was healthy. A brutal month of October was followed by him being one of the bright spots for the team in November and December, before his play dropped off significantly in January and early February. Then an injury sidelined him for 25 games only to have him return to the lineup for the final two games against teams well out of the playoffs to close out the season.

Then he had to face Pittsburgh on Wednesday.

Quite a change in competition.

Elliott was not interested in using that layoff as an excuse and didn’t want to chalk his Game 1 struggles up to still trying to get up to speed.

“It’s always hard when you miss a lot of time,” said Elliott after the game. “But everybody is dealing with stuff this time of year so there’s no excuses in the playoffs.”

But it still leaves Hakstol with a big decision for Friday’s game.

[Related: Penguins, Crosby blow out Flyers, Elliott in Game 1]

Does he go back to Elliott after benching him just 30 minutes into Game 1, or does he make a change and go with Petr Mrazek who gave up two goals on the 14 shots he faced in relief?

Hakstol was asked about a potential change after the game and seemed to have confidence in going back to Elliott.

“Right now my first instinct is yeah,” Hakstol said. “It’s always different as you get into the playoffs, things are elevated a little bit. But coming back with Moose when he was coming off the injury, he’s our guy. He’s a huge reason why our team was able to put ourselves in a  position to be in the playoffs. In terms of his presence in our dressing room and the trust we all have him in that’s a pretty big factor. Like everything else we’ll look hard at it, but right now my first gut instinct is he that he is our guy and I don’t see a reason why we would go away from him.”

The other reason to potentially stick with Elliott: The alternative may not be any better.

Neuvirth is still listed as day-to-day with a lower body injury and has played just 28 minutes of hockey since Feb. 18.

That leaves Mrazek as the only other potential option for the time being. Since being acquired in a trade from the Detroit Red Wings (entirely due to injuries to Elliott and Neuvirth) Mrazek has had a .891 save percentage as a member of the Flyers. Since the start of the 2016-17 season is at .901 in 89 games. Not exactly the level of goaltending you want against one of the best offensive teams in hockey and one that just put a seven-spot on the scoreboard.

Not exactly a great spot to be in, and with everything being as it is, he may not have much of a choice but to stick with Elliott.

Then again, if the Penguins play like they did on Wednesday night it may not even matter who the goalie is.

————

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

 

NHL plans to test players for COVID-19 daily if games resume

Leave a comment

Nick Foligno watches Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s coronavirus briefings and appreciates the value of the information.

It is part of the reason the Columbus captain supports NHL players undergoing daily testing if the season resumes.

“Testing is a must because it’s the only way you’re going to know and feel confident every time you step on the ice that everyone is in the same boat as you and you can play the game to the best of your ability,” Foligno said.

The first major North American professional sports league to announce a format for its potential return to competition also has a comprehensive COVID-19 testing strategy. There are screening protocols in place for voluntary workouts and training camp in the hands of individual teams. Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly also said the NHL plans to test all players every day when games start happening.

“We will have a rigorous daily testing protocol where players are tested every evening and those results are obtained before they would leave their hotel rooms the next morning, so we’ll know if we have a positive test and whether the player has to self-quarantine himself as a result of that positive test,” Daly said. “It’s expensive, but we think it’s really a foundational element of what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Each test costs approximately $125, the league says, and Commissioner Gary Bettman estimated 25,000-35,000 will be needed to get through the playoffs — a price tag, he concedes, of “millions of dollars.” But athletes have plenty of concerns about risking their health to get back to work, and regular testing is something players insisted on.

“You need testing at a level sufficient to be confident that you’re going to be on top of anything which might happen,” NHL Players’ Association executive director Don Fehr said. “If that turns out to be daily, and that’s available, that’s OK. That would be good. If it turns out that that’s not quite what we need and we can get by with a little less, that’s OK.”

Infectious disease expert Dr. Amesh Adalja of the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security isn’t quite sure how often athletes should be tested to ensure they are virus-free. He said testing in German soccer will help other leagues determine the right frequency, which also depends on the type of quarantine and exposure risks players will have.

“We do know that people that have increased contact with each other are going to have more opportunity to spread the virus, and hockey is one of the sports where individuals do have a lot of contact with each other,” Adalja said. “I would say that they’re going to have to be more aggressive than other leagues in terms of testing.”

While players vary on their general concern about contracting the virus by resuming the season, many seem to be on board with frequent testing.

“Having it each and every day begins to limit the potential of getting the virus,” Edmonton player representative Darnell Nurse said. “If that’s what it takes, that’s what the professionals who are in this field and tackle these challenges each and every day, if that’s what they believe is the best option, then that’s the way you have to go.”

Teammate Connor McDavid and Toronto captain John Tavares, who are members of the NHL/NHLPA Return to Play committee, deferred to experts on how often players should be tested. McDavid added, “I think you have to get tested in a time like this, and you want to get tested as frequently as you can to catch it right away.”

Daly said one person testing positive for the coronavirus would not necessarily mean another pause for the NHL. Leaguewide testing done daily would allow the isolation of an infected player, coach or staff member before the start of an outbreak.

“If one guy tests positive, I see it as unlikely that other guys don’t test positive, but in assessing everybody I have to believe that they’ll probably find it,” Montreal player rep Paul Byron said. “What would happen if half your team or four or five or six guys test positive at one time?”

League and team officials have stressed they would only use thousands of tests if that number does not endanger the supply for the general public, a concern Adalja broached for all sports. Bettman said medical experts told the NHL that by the time games could resume this summer, 25,000-30,000 would be “a relatively insignificant number.”

Adalja said a league partnering with a national chain for testing could keep it from interfering with the public supply, though it is difficult to predict what availability will be like in late summer. He also said the cost and availability depends on whether the NHL would use more expensive but more reliable PCR tests — the nose swabs — or rapid antigen tests that can have less sensitivity.

Protocols for voluntary workouts and training camps require PCR testing where available, and Daly said the NHL continues to study the potential use of antigen testing.

Part of the decision on which cities host games is the amount of COVID-19 present in the community. Bettman hopes the combination of going to a place with less of it, testing frequently and putting players in a quarantine “bubble” of sorts means it’s less likely for anyone to contract it.

The players putting faith in the league to keep them healthy hope that turns out to be correct.

“Staying on top of everyone is going to be a good challenge for our training staff, and the onus on the players in making sure everyone’s safe,” Carolina captain Jordan Staal said. “It’s going to be different. It’s going to be some interesting hurdles but hopefully if we get back on the ice, I’m sure the guys will find a way to jump through them.”

PHT Morning Skate: McDavid on Return to Play; Parise on Canucks

Leave a comment

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• The NHL released a statement in regards to the protests around the U.S. following the death of George Floyd last week in Minnesota: “In our own sport, we will continue to do better and work diligently toward culture change throughout hockey and endeavour to be mindful of our own shortcomings in this process.”  [NHL.com]

Blake Wheeler, Evander Kane, P.K. Subban and Connor Carrick were among the NHL to give their thoughts. [RMNB]

Connor McDavid on the 24-team Return to Play format: “We were trying to get the format in place first and we’ve got that, so now I think those (other) are questions that start to need answers. The safety of our players and of everyone involved is paramount and that’s the main issue that’s got to get solved right now. I think that’s what needs to be answered before anything happens and we move forward.” [Sporting News]

• “While last week was an important step toward returning to the ice for the NHL/NHLPA-approved 24-team playoff format, it was still only a small one when it comes to actually getting there.” [Winnipeg Sun]

• On the status of Kirill Kaprizov, Alexander Romanov and others: “So we can tell you the union stridently opposes the NHL’s stance that teams should not be permitted to sign players from their respective reserve lists to 2019-20 contracts so they can participate in the tournament. It is the union’s position, and a quite reasonable one, that the matter should revert to the status quo if the sides do not agree to changing the CBA regulation that is in force.” [NY Post]

Zach Parise talks the Wild’s season, Dean Evason and the Canucks. [TSN]

• Steve Yzerman has given the Red Wings’ youngsters the job of keeping the rebuild intact. [NHL.com]

• Angela Ruggiero, one of the coaches of the 3ICE league, speaks out on the lack of women behind benches and in the executive suites of NHL teams. [ESPN]

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

James van Riemsdyk on fatherhood, Flyers/NHL returning, and more

Leave a comment

Flyers winger James van Riemsdyk took a moment out of his day/put his car in park to chat with Mike Tirico on “Lunch Talk Live” on Friday. You can watch the full video above this post’s headline.

JVR didn’t do much to peel back the curtain on return-to-play issues, but he provided some useful information nonetheless.

  • Maybe most relevantly, JVR told Tirico that he’ll be close to 100 percent if the Flyers actually get to return to play. Van Riemsdyk injured his finger back in March.

JVR and Tirico didn’t really go into this, but the 31-year-old winger was heating up toward the end of 2019-20. Things didn’t start that smoothly, as Van Riemsdyk only managed five goals and 11 points through his first 17 games. Considering the $7M per year investment the Flyers made, JVR probably heard some grumbles.

But he played some of his best hockey with a still-fairly-new team before the injury and the pandemic struck. JVR scored 29 of his season’s 40 points (and 14 of his 19 goals) through the last 39 games. An updated version of Bill Comeau’s SKATR chart captures how much better JVR has been overall in 2019-20 after a disappointing return season with Philly:

JVR SKATR
via Bill Comeau

As disruptive as the pandemic has been, it had to be nice for JVR to be there for such a life event. An eager Tirico also learned that JVR’s child already has Gritty slippers.

(Please send Gritty slippers. I’m already quite googly-eyed from quarantining, anyway. At least my belly button doesn’t change colors [yet] though.)

  • He didn’t elaborate much, but JVR hinted that players prefer reseeding over a bracketed playoff format.

Really, though, the low-fi nature of the video pushes it to another level. Few things humanize a person quite like doing an interview in a parking lot. (Been there, JVR, been there. Kind of.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

USA Hockey president Jim Smith facing investigations

AP Photo/Mark Humphrey
1 Comment

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — USA Hockey president Jim Smith is the subject of two investigations surrounding his tenure as the president of Amateur Hockey Association Illinois.

USA Hockey spokesman Dave Fischer confirmed Friday that the organization has hired an independent investigator to look into Smith’s business dealings with AHAI. Fischer also said the US Center for SafeSport is investigating allegations that Smith was aware of sexual misconduct by a coach and didn’t take action against him during Smith’s tenure with AHAI.

The Athletic first reported on the two investigations.

Fischer said the US Center for SafeSport’s investigation is regarding allegations that were made against Thomas Adrahtas, a youth hockey coach. The Athletic reported in February that multiple players said Adrahtas had abused them.

The US Center for SafeSport said in a statement that ”consistent with best practices and federal law, the Center does not discuss matters to protect the integrity of the process and the privacy of the parties and any potential witnesses.”

Smith couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. He told The Athletic through a spokesperson earlier this month that ”in my time as president of AHAI, there were no reports alleging misconduct by Tom Adrahtas.”

Founded in 1937, USA Hockey is an organization focused on the support and development of grass-roots hockey programs. Smith was unanimously elected as president by the organization’s board of directors in 2015. He was unanimously re-elected in 2018.