Brian Elliott

Jakub Voracek #93 of the Philadelphia Flyers is congratulated by teammates
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Flyers recover in OT after squandering third-period lead

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Like many NHL teams at this juncture of the season, the Philadelphia Flyers are trying to determine if they are playoff contenders or pretenders.

After learning Carter Hart will be sidelined two to three weeks with an abdominal strain, the Flyers put together an impressive 4-3 win against the defending Stanley Cup Champions in St. Louis.

Jakub Voracek scored a crafty goal at 3:33 of overtime as the Flyers captured their third win in the past four games.

Tyler Pitlick, Michael Raffl and Travis Konecny also scored for Philadelphia while Brian Elliott added 30 saves.

Justin Faulk, Ryan O’Reilly and Alexander Steen scored as the Blues fell for the first time at home since December 7th.

Important Road Victory

The Flyers have struggled on the road this season and have only won 10 games in 25 opportunities and went 1-4-1 on their latest six-game road trip.

After surrendering the opening goal, Philadelphia scored three straight only to allow two in the final period to force the extra session. The Flyers proved to themselves that they can skate with the NHL’s best and can now remember this game when looking for confidence during the stretch run of the season.

With Hart sidelined and other obstacles in their path, the Flyers will need to battle adversity to remain in the Stanley Cup Playoff race.

Blues Home Winning Streak

The Blues have been stellar on home ice this season but failed to set a franchise record by extending their winning streak to 10 after falling in overtime against the Flyers. St. Louis showed its resiliency with a rally in the third period to overcome a two-goal deficit but couldn’t finish the job.

During the nine-game home winning streak, the Blues won each game in regulation as they climbed to the top of the standings in the Central Division. For the Blues to be on top of the most competitive division in the League without Vladimir Tarasenko is extraordinary.

Note: Flyers coach Alain Vigneault passed Mike Keenan for sole possession of 11th place on the NHL all-time wins list for coaches with his 673rd victory.

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Flyers’ Carter Hart to miss 2-3 weeks with abdominal injury

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This isn’t the news the Philadelphia Flyers need right now.

The team announced on Wednesday that starting goaltender Carter Hart is going to miss the next two-to-three weeks with a right lower abdominal strain. Brian Elliott will take over the primary goaltending duties during that stretch, while the team also recalled Alex Lyon from Lehigh Valley of the American Hockey League.

Let’s break all this down.

First, this is really bad news for the Flyers in the short-term. While Hart’s overall numbers are probably not what the Flyers had hoped for at this point in the season, he is still the team’s best goalie. The best-case scenario of only two weeks would keep him out through at least the all-star break. The Flyers play four games during that stretch, and it begins Wednesday night in St. Louis against the defending Stanley Cup champions (watch it on NBCSN at 8 p.m. ET). After that, they return home for three games against Montreal, Los Angeles, and Pittsburgh.

If his injury holds him beyond the All-Star break their first two games back are against Pittsburgh and Colorado.

Not exactly an easy schedule for a team playing without its best goalie. They also have two different sets of back-to-backs during that stretch, including tonight and tomorrow against the Blues and Canadiens.

Elliott is mired in a terrible slump with an .843 save percentage in his past seven appearances dating back to the start of December.

That’s going to be a problem for the Flyers because they have already been slipping a bit in recent weeks and find themselves on the playoff bubble. Even with Monday’s shootout win against the Boston (thanks in large part to Brad Marchand’s shootout whiff) the Flyers are just 3-5-1 in their past nine games, with only one of those three wins coming in regulation.

They are currently in a tie with the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference.

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.

PHT Face-Off: Pacioretty’s career year; Hart’s strong start

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The PHT Face-Off is back every Monday to break down some of the trends and storylines around the NHL.

Let’s take a look at what’s on tap this week:

Carter Hart has had a good year:

Last week, the Flyers goaltender officially hit the one-year mark in his NHL career, and it’s actually gone pretty well when you consider his age and position. Hart and backup netminder Brian Elliott were splitting starts at one point, but the youngster is now the regular between the pipes for Philly this season.

Those numbers aren’t terrible, especially when you consider how much the NHL has changed over the last two seasons. Offense seems to have gone up quite a bit and point totals are also on the rise. With all that in mind, it’s easy to see why the Flyers are excited about their future when it includes Hart. How long has it been since they’ve had a real difference-maker in goal?

Ryan Strome fitting in nicely with Rangers:

Sure, Strome has had the benefit of playing with Artemi Panarin for a good chunk of this season, but the fact that he’s accumulated 30 points in his first 35 games of the season is still impressive. The Strome’s success looks even better for New York when you realize that all they gave up for him was Ryan Spooner, who’s now playing in Europe.

On the flip side, when you look at his numbers without Panarin, you quickly realize just how good the Russian winger is at making those around him better. Almost all of Strome’s individual numbers drop when Panarin isn’t by his side, according to Natural Stat Trick.

With Panarin, Strome has a 47.39 CF%, a 47.86 FF%, a 61.76 GF% and an XGF% of 48.79 percent. Without him, he has a 43.6 CF%, a 42.91 FF%, a 45.45 GF% and an XGF% of 41.76.

Yeah, those numbers are definitely inflated by a talented linemate, but nobody will really mind if he continues to put up points throughout the season.

• Veterans coming through for Wild: 

Nobody really expected much from the Minnesota Wild this year, but a solid couple of months has them in the mix for a playoff spot heading into the Christmas break. Eric Staal, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter have a lot to do with the teams recent play.

Parise has 16 points in his last 19 contests, Staal has picked up 11 points in his last nine games and Ryan Suter has seven points in his last six games and, oh by the way, he’s averaging over 25 minutes of ice time per game for the season. There’s no denying that the Wild are an aging team and they’re still not likely to make the playoffs, but maybe this group of old timers (no offense) can get them back into the postseason one last time.

This is a stat that dates back to last week, so the numbers have changed a little bit, but look at the balanced scoring they’re receiving and look at the names of the players contributing.

Overcoming the Zucker injury won’t be easy (he’s expected to miss a month). The good news is that the team has activated Joel Eriksson Ek from injured reserve.

Max Pacioretty is playing best hockey of career:

The Golden Knights paid a huge price to land Max Pacioretty from the Montreal Canadiens last fall, as they gave up Tomas Tatar, top prospect Nick Suzuki and a second-round draft pick. Tatar has been solid for the Habs and Suzuki has made quite the impression during his rookie season, but you can’t overlook what Pacioretty has done in his second year with Vegas.

The 31-year-old is on pace to score 32 goals this year, which wouldn’t be a career-high, but he could also surpass the 70-point mark for the first time in his career. Even though Pacioretty is known as a scorer first, he’s found a way to help set up teammates this year. He and Mark Stone have given the Golden Knights another incredible forward line.

He’s heading into this week with 10 points in his last seven games. On top of all that, his CF%, SF% XGF%, SCF%, and HDCF% are all at 55 percent or higher, per Natural Stat Trick.

The fact that he’s no longer playing in a hockey-crazy market like Montreal seems to be helping him.

“I haven’t really thought about it, but that’s kind of my personality. Not really attention-grabbing,” Pacioretty told The Athletic. “You’re never as good as they say you are. You’re never as bad as they say you are, so I try to stay even keel. Good news is right now we’re getting contributions from everybody and we’re winning as a team.”

• Are the 200-minute penalty men back?

Last season, only one player surpassed the 150-minute penalty mark, and that was San Jose Sharks forward Evander Kane. In all, only six players had more than 100 minutes in the sin bin (Kane, Tom Wilson, Antoine Roussell, Ian Cole, Brendan Lemieux and Zack Kassian. Yes, those numbers would’ve been higher had each of those players not missed games, but those are still low totals.

This year, the high-end penalty minute takers appear to be back in find form. Leading the way this season is Erik Gubranson of the Anaheim Ducks, who has 86 penalty minutes in just 33 contests. That puts him on pace for 203. Lemieux is right behind him, as he has 85 PIMs in 33 contests. Kane is right behind both of them with 83 minutes in 35 games.

This is what happens when Lemieux and Gudbranson go head-to-head:

What’s coming up this week?

• The Christmas break runs from Dec. 24 to Dec. 26, but that means we’re loaded with hockey games on Monday and Friday night.
• The World Junior Hockey Championship begins on Boxing Day.

NHL on NBCSN

• New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia Flyers, Mon. Dec. 23, 7 p.m. ET
• Minnesota Wild vs. Colorado Avalanche, Fri. Dec. 27, 8 p.m. ET

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Net gains: NHL’s load management is top goalies playing less

Marc-Andre Fleury plays when he’s told.

How much he plays has changed.

A decade ago, Fleury started 61 out of 82 games before backstopping Pittsburgh to the Stanley Cup. He started 58 and 34 times on the Penguins’ 2016 and 2017 Cup runs splitting time with Matt Murray, then made 46 starts for Vegas and led the expansion Golden Knights to the final.

“As a player, I love being in there. I love playing the game,” Fleury said. “It’s tough to find like the perfect amount of games. Nowadays, I feel like we’re hearing more than ever how we’re going to manage two goalies and stuff.”

Consider it hockey’s version of “load management” that’s gained popularity in basketball. Don’t expect NHL teams to handpick games throughout the season to rest star players – except top goaltenders who are getting more nights off while their backups share the net with an eye toward playoff success.

Each of the past five Cup-winning goalies started fewer than 60 games in the regular season, along with three of the past five runners up. The days of Martin Brodeur starting 78 games are gone – only three goalies have 70-plus starts over the past five seasons – and teams think year-round about how to best prepare to play deep into June.

“The trend is definitely going the way that you split the net more,” said Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask, who carried the Bruins to Game 7 of the final last year after starting 46 times in the regular season. “It’s a tough thing because if your starter makes $8-9 million, you want him to play. But then you want to win the Cup, so you’ve got to think of it like, well, if this guy plays 70 games, is he going to play 25 in the playoffs at the same level? Versus OK we’re playing him 45, 50 really good games and then we got the other guy and the A guy’s going to play 25 really good (playoff games).”

Rask and Jaroslav Halak, Washington’s Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer in 2018 and Pittsburgh’s Murray and Fleury the previous two years are prime examples. Jordan Binnington didn’t make his first NHL start until January, but 32 games of work made him fresh to help the St. Louis Blues win the Cup last season.

It’s a delicate balance of having enough salary cap space to employ two capable goalies with playing time, plotting out the schedule for maximum rest benefits and collecting enough points to make the playoffs.

“It’s a collaborative discussion that all teams have,” Vegas general manager Kelly McCrimmon said. “What we’re doing is trying to win hockey games during the regular season, trying to keep both of our goalies sharp and trying to have all our players at the top of their game come playoffs.”

The New York Islanders have alternated Thomas Greiss and Semyon Varlamov for their first 24 games and allow the fourth-fewest goals in the league. Anaheim’s coaching staff pencils in both John Gibson or Ryan Miller for all 82 games and revisits incrementally to adjust for injuries and workloads.

“It has very little to do with games,” Ducks coach Dallas Eakins said. “It has more to do with how much work. We had a game earlier this year where we were overwhelmed in the game against Vegas. I think they put up 50 shots, and we were in our zone the whole time. That went down as one game for John, but he really played two, so that’s kind of how we look at it.”

Miller previously preferred to skip a game with a couple days off on each end for a mental break. He sees so many teams splitting back-to-backs and understands it but also thinks battling some old-school fatigue can be good for a goaltender.

“I don’t think there’s a strict recipe,” said Miller, whose career high was 74 starts in 2007-08 with Buffalo. “I think some adversity is good to keep your mentality in the right place. It’s not going to be a cake walk and then playoffs hit and it’s like (you’re) dialed in. You’ve got to go through some stuff and work through it and battle through the harder situations so that’s just your mindset every night.”

NHL goalies believe modern games are more difficult with higher shot totals than past decades. Teams are averaging 30 shots a game in 2019-20, while the schedule has more back-to-backs.

“Nowadays there’s a lot more work for a goalie: a lot less hooking and holding up for the D-men, so there’s a lot more chances or a lot more in-zone time that you’re actually working,” said Philadelphia’s Brian Elliott, who’s part of a successful tandem with Carter Hart. “Even if you’re maybe not getting shots, you’re looking through screens, you’re doing a lot of work.”

Vegas coach Gerard Gallant appreciates Fleury wants to play all 82 games, and he’s not alone in wanting to grab the net and not let go.

“I’ve felt a lot better every year I played a lot more games,” said Holtby, who led the league with 73 games played in 2014-15. “It’s a little more of a feel game instead of an analytics game just because of the speed of it. … It’s one of those things everyone’s probably different. It probably has a lot to do with how you practice and everything.”

Some goalies are going to play more than others; Florida’s $10 million man, Sergei Bobrovsky, or Montreal’s Carey Price, the highest-paid goalie in the league, could start 60 or more just because his team needs an elite level of play.

“We’d love to have (Price) in every game, but it’s not realistic,” Canadiens coach Claude Julien said. “We give him some days off of practices because that’s not quite as important as him in games.”

The most important thing, of course, is the playoffs. It’s tough for starters who want to play all the time and it takes an adjustment, but the proof is in the names on the Stanley Cup that splitting the net works.

“Everybody wants to play,” Rask said. “The older you get, I think it becomes a little easier to realize that it’s not about me. I’m resting for the team.”

And resting with the hope that shouldering less of a load now makes a goalie more likely to raise a trophy over his shoulders at the end of the season.

The Buzzer: Rough night for rougher teams

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Three Stars

1. Assorted Buffalo Sabres

Look, when you beat a team 7-1, you’re probably going to have at least a few standouts, and your top Sabres star probably boils down to taste.

Johan Larsson is a good player to start with. His three assists happened during Buffalo’s five-goal opening period, one that really made the Devils’ dire situation extra-glaringly-clear. Jack Eichel did what he does, which is score a lot, extending his point streak to 10 games with one goal and two assists.

To be fair to the Devils, they at least tried to make the score more respectable. They fired 45 shots on goal, including 39 during the second and third period, to try to get in the game. Linus Ullmark wasn’t interested in helping New Jersey save face, however, as he stopped all but one of those 45 SOG.

2. Jake Allen, St. Louis Blues

Could we be seeing a mini-renaissance for a goalie who’s been left in the dust by Jordan Binnington?

Allen was arguably the first star of Monday night, making 38 saves for his first shutout of 2019-20, including 17 in the third period to cement that goose egg.

While it’s a small sample size, Allen has been heating up after two rocky appearances in October. Allen generated a strong .934 save percentage during five appearances in November, and began December with this shutout. Again, it’s not exactly a lengthy run of elite puck-stopping, yet if Allen can maintain a decent level of play, the Blues can at least keep Binnington reasonably rested as they try to defend that first-ever Stanley Cup title.

Semyon Varlamov is a decent option as another goalie as he made 30 out of 31 stops as the Islanders got back on the winning track against the very-much-not-winning Red Wings.

3. Hampus Lindholm, Anaheim Ducks

It’s unclear if Lindholm will find the game that made him an under-the-radar elite defensive presence from 2015-16 to 2017-18, only to drop off significantly in 2018-19. But he at least enjoyed a nice game on Monday.

Lindholm collected three assists against the Kings, ending a seven-game pointless streak. The last time he collected a point? Why, that was … another three-assist night, in that case against the Avalanche on Oct. 26. Lindholm now has 12 points (all assists) in 20 games in 2019-20.

Stephenson is Vegas-bound

The Washington Capitals traded Chandler Stephenson to the Vegas Golden Knights (and George McPhee) for a fifth-round pick in 2021.

Tough to say that Stephenson is a huge loss, judging by both his modest scoring numbers, workmanlike other stats, and his RAPM chart at Evolving Hockey. But he might at least give Vegas a decent option to soak up penalty kill minutes and other unglamorous roles.

Highlight of the Night

Kings forward Nikolai Prokhorkin sliced through the Ducks defense like a hot fork knife through butter.

Lowlight

Ouch, Louis Domingue.

Factoids

  • Jake Allen joins Brian Elliott (25) and Jaroslav Halak (20) as the only three Blues goalies with 20 career shutouts, according to NHL PR. Binnington is at six in his regular season career, in case you were wondering.
  • NHL PR points out that Jack Eichel (four assists on March 21, 2018) is the only Sabres player with more assists in a single period than the three Larsson collected in the opening frame on Monday.
  • The Devils have lost their last two games by a combined score of 11-1. The Sabres scored three goals before New Jersey even registered its first shot on goal in Monday’s 7-1 drubbing.
  • The Red Wings have now lost 10 games in a row, and have allowed the most goals in the league with 118. No one else has reached 100 goals allowed yet this season (Montreal’s second-worst with 95).
  • As rough as the Rangers’ underlying numbers have been, they were putting together some decent stretches. Monday’s 4-1 loss to the Golden Knights ended a five-game point streak where the Rangers went 4-0-1.

Scores

BUF 7 – NJD 1
VGK 4 – NYR 1
NYI 4 – DET 1
STL 4 – CHI 0
ANA 4 – LAK 2

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.