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