It’s no secret that there have been goaltending issues in Philadelphia for a number of years. The Flyers have been unable to find the goaltender that can take them all the way. Well, they may have had that in Steve Mason but the world will never know as he’s a Winnipeg Jet now.
The Flyers have Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth tending the net this season. What was said to be a tandem role has Elliott with nine starts and Neuvirth with six through 15 games so far. That is just about as even as it could get. But is that the way it should be?
The reason Mason is now a Jet is that he did not want to be a part of a tandem role. Mason wanted to be the starting goaltender. He earned that right while a part of the Flyers, but the team decided to extend Neuvirth instead. That decision all but solidified Hextall’s message of having a goaltending tandem.
Through 15 games this season, Elliott is 5-3-1 and Neuvirth is 2-3-1. The records alone would indicate that Elliott is having the better season, but that is not necessarily the case. Elliott’s SV% is .892 while Neuvirth’s is .928. Their GAA’s are vastly different as well. Neuvirth has a 2.17 GAA while Elliott has a 3.11 GAA. Neuvirth also has one shutout on the season, while Elliot has yet to post one of his own.
Elliott has played almost 200 more minutes, making it a bit unfair to simply compare this season numbers. It is better to take a look at each goaltender individually and see how they stack up against each other.
Taking a look at Elliott’s stats, he has posted above a .900 SV% in six of his nine starts. He recorded the win in five of those games. The one loss came against the Blackhawks, where the Flyers were shutout. Elliott’s overall numbers are a bit inflated, however, since he appeared in both the 6-5 loss to the Nashville Predators and the 6-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks. Almost half of his goals against came in those two games, while he has given up 16 goals total in seven other games.
Looking at Elliott’s career as a whole, the most games he has started in a season was 48 in 2009-10 when he was with the Ottawa Senators. He went 29-18-0 that season as he sported a 2.57 GAA and a .909 SV%. His best season came in 2011-12 when he started 36 games for the St. Louis Blues, appearing in 38 overall. He went 23-10-4 that season, posting a career-best 1.56 GAA and a .940 SV%.
Elliott has started in over half of the games in a season five times since appearing in the league in 2007-08. However, his best season came when he had less than 40 starts. This involved playing in a tandem role.
Neuvirth has recorded above a .900 SV% in four of his six games. This included his 33 save shutout against the Blues. He gave up three goals combined in his losses to the Nashville Predators and Los Angeles Kings. The Flyers were shutout in both of those games.
So far in his career, Neuvirth has only had one season in which he has started in over half of the games. In 2010-11, Neuvirth started 45 games and finished with a 27-12-4 record. He ended with a 2.45 GAA and .914 SV%. He then started 30 games the following season. His best season came when he started 29 games in 2015-16, appearing in 32 total. He posted an 18-8-4 record along with a career-best 2.27 GAA and a .934 SV%.
The problem for Neuvirth has been his durability. During his first two seasons in Philadelphia, he only appeared in 60 combined games. Injuries have followed his career and it was no different during this span of time.
So should the Flyers have a number one guy?
The record favors Elliott, but the stats favor Neuvirth. The problem is that Neuvirth has proven that he is unable to handle a starter’s role. Elliott’s previous history shows that he thrives when he isn’t playing a bulk of the schedule. Thus the Flyers shouldn’t rush to call either of their goaltender the number one starter.
There may come a time, however, where the team needs to define their starting goaltender role. You can make an argument for and against either goaltender. Elliott has the experience of being a starter, but he was backstopping the Blues at the time. Neuvirth has the stats so far to warrant a starting position, but his injury history doesn’t hold up well.
It’s possible that a tandem role is exactly what the two goaltenders need to bring out their strengths. It may also take one of these goaltenders getting hot to show which one could be the starter should the Flyers feel they need to define one. Until then, it looks like a 1A/1B situation is what the Flyers should be going with.
Photo Credit: Amanda Kurtz, @orangeandsass