In­jury may mean sea­son’s end for Fly­ers’ Brian El­liott

Daily Times (Primos, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - Rob Par­ent Colum­nist Con­tact Rob Par­ent at rpar­ent@21stcen­tu­ry­media.com; fol­low him on Twit­ter @Reluc­tan­tSE.

PHILADEL­PHIA » It didn’t seem to be any­thing too trau­matic when it hap­pened, but it’s pos­si­ble that the ac­ci­den­tal stick poke to Brian El­liott’s mask Satur­day night might es­sen­tially have ended his sea­son.

That’s spec­u­la­tive in sev­eral ways, but the end re­sult is that El­liott will miss most of the re­main­der of the Fly­ers’ reg­u­lar sea­son af­ter un­der­go­ing surgery Tues­day morn­ing for what used to be known as a “sports her­nia” or “groin” in­jury and now car­ries the spe­cial­ized moniker of “core mus­cle” surgery.

No mat­ter the name, this pro­ce­dure is cer­tainly cen­tral to the Fly­ers’ core mis­sion of mak­ing the play­offs and to El­liott’s wishes of spring suc­cess.

El­liott, signed as a free agent of goal­tend­ing in­sur­ance last sum­mer, has far out­per­formed goalie Michal Neu­virth and be­came one of the Fly­ers’ most con­sis­tent per­form­ers this sea­son. He was bopped with an er­rant stick up­side the mask af­ter Clay­ton Keller missed on the Ari­zona Coy­otes’ se­cond at­tempt of a shootout. The Fly­ers would go on to win that shootout in seven rounds, with Neu­virth com­ing in ice cold and ston­ing the Coy­otes on five more at­tempts in nail­ing down a 4-3 Fly­ers vic­tory.

Neu­virth, long a gifted goalie but whose an­nual in­jury is­sues are the stuff of un­for­tu­nate le­gend, has been lim­ited to 19 games this sea­son, as op­posed to El­liott’s 41 games played. But Neu­virth started Sun­day night in Las Ve­gas and over­saw a 3-1 up­set of the Golden Knights and was in net again Tues­day against the Devils.

While a hot Neu­virth is a must-see prospect for the Fly­ers’ stretch drive, it’s al­ways a ques­tion about how of­ten the club can hope to see him in ac­tion at all. His health has been so of­ten spec­u­lated, even gen­eral man­ager Ron Hex­tall was left Tues­day night to al­most ad­mit a pend­ing goalie trade isn’t out­side of the realm of pos­si­bil­ity.

“Well, the dead­line is two weeks away (Feb. 26), (so) I guess things can change be­tween now and then,” Hex­tall said. “We like our team, we like what we’ve done. In say­ing that, we’ve got to keep go­ing here. We’ve got to keep push­ing. Neuvy is very ca­pa­ble. Again, he’s played some real good games for us this year. Some other ones ... haven’t been that great, but if he can get on a roll here and get some con­sis­tency and do a good job for us, we will be fine.”

As the past has shown, how­ever, a hot Neu­virth never pre­cludes the pos­si­bil­ity of a hurt Neu­virth. Hence vet­eran names like Petr Mrazek (Detroit), Antti Raanta (Ari­zona) or Jon Bernier (Colorado) might come up in con­nec­tion with the Fly­ers. (Though San Jose’s Aaron Dell would be a prefer­able op­tion).

Fur­ther en­cour­ag­ing that trade hype is the fact that the op­tion be­hind Neu­virth is the Phan­toms’ Alex Lyon, who was unim­pres­sive (0-1, 3.93 goals-against; .860 save per­cent­age) in his three re­cent NHL ap­pear­ances while Neu­virth was spend­ing an­other sev­eral weeks among the ail­ing.

As for El­liott, he’s al­leged to be on the road to re­cov­ery af­ter “core mus­cle” surgery, which car­ries the 5-6 week re­hab sen­tence with it. Hex­tall calls that a time pe­riod be­fore El­liott could re­turn to games, but such a long stay away would cer­tainly make it a chal­lenge for him to be sharp enough to be put in a post­sea­son game.

It doesn’t take a hockey horol­o­gist (or even any­one know­ing what that means) to know that’s pre­cious lit­tle time for El­liott to carry much post-sea­son im­pact. Be­sides ... the Fly­ers have to get there first.

With Tues­day’s surgery as a start­ing point, that time­frame would give El­liott a first chance to play March 20 in Detroit, ex­actly five weeks post­surgery. There would be only nine games re­main­ing in the reg­u­lar sea­son af­ter that.

Hex­tall said El­liott’s prob­lem was a re-ag­gra­va­tion of a prob­lem he’d had last month. But core mus­cle in­juries can be trig­gered (or ag­gra­vated) by an in­ci­dent of trauma ... such as a stick to a face, masked or not.

Maybe the blow was a for­tu­nate one for El­liott and the Fly­ers. The time­line is cer­tainly tight, but with surgery now rather than later, at least there’s a chance El­liott could re­turn to make some kind of im­pact for a team whose play­off chances just took a wicked hit.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE

With Brian El­liott re­cov­er­ing from surgery, Michal Neu­virth (pic­tured Satur­day in Glendale, Ariz.) is now the Fly­ers’ stretch-drive goal­tender. That is un­less gen­eral man­ager and for­mer goalie Ron Hex­tall’s ac­tions lead­ing up to the league trade dead­line say oth­er­wise.

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