VOORHEES, N.J. – A good feeling after the first practice back from core surgery might be cause for optimism, but Brian Elliott understandably is taking a cautious approach.
On Saturday, the Flyers goaltender was out stopping pucks at the Skate Zone for the first time since mid-February and didn’t look the worse for wear.
However, to think that he might be at one hundred percent if the Flyers do make the playoffs in this final week of the season could be fool’s gold.
Of course there’s always the risk of re-injury, so Elliott must proceed with caution.
“This is the first practice with the guys, so it’s kind of a measuring stick,’’ said Elliott, who was the team’s designated starter before going down with the injury during a shootout in Arizona on Feb. 10.
“It’s ‘see how you’re feeling’ and stuff like that. Haven’t skated with the guys for six weeks, so it takes some time to get back into it. But I felt a lot better than expected. Hopefully it keeps trending in that direction.’’
For the season, Elliott has played in 41 games with a record of 21-11-7, a 2.72 goals-against average and .908 save percentage.
Elliott said he’s been skating on his own for a couple weeks but Saturday’s session was a step up.
“Slowly, everyday, I’ve been doing a little bit more,’’ he said. “Some days not having good days, some days having really good days. It’s just been a kind of constant ramping up of activity.
“This is a big step up for me today. It’s a different bird when you’re going from controlled skates and shots to just going out there and reacting and playing hockey.’’
Elliott said this is the first time he’s undergone surgery in his pro hockey career.
There are only four games left in the Flyers’ season, starting with Sunday’s home game against Boston, but with a playoff game yet to be clinched, Elliott doesn’t want to return until he is fully recovered and his timing is back.
“Every game right now means so much so it’s kind of hard to judge. . .hopefully we have a couple games and we solidify our playoff spot,’’ he said. “Depending on how I feel. That would be my goal, to get me in at least one or two of these (remaining games) to see how I feel.’’
Given the situation, the playoff crunch, is it difficult to remain patient?
“Mentally, it (the temptation to come back) is kind of like that,’’ Elliott said. “Physically, your body tells you what you can and cannot do. That part is not hard, because it (his body) is pretty vocal about what you can and can’t do.
“I wouldn’t be out there today if it didn’t feel good and it wasn’t on a good track. Today was big. We’ll see how it reacts the next time I’m on the ice.’’
With no reference point from any past surgery, it’s difficult to measure progress.
“It’s a new process for me,’’ he said. “It’s a tough time of the year. There is the possibility of coming back at the end and you’re shooting for it but it (surgery) was pretty traumatic. But things are holding up. It’s just a question of feeling comfortable in vulnerable positions.’’
Coach Dave Hakstol has had to use four goalies (Elliott, Michal Neuvirth, Petr Mrazek, Alex Lyon) this season, so it’s not like he’s tapping his foot waiting on Elliott’s return.
Neuvirth is once again out with a lower-body injury so Lyon was called back up to serve as Mrazek’s backup for the Boston game.
“It’s a real important step for him (Elliott) to get out and practice,’’ Hakstol said. “It’s nice to have him back on the ice. Just the progress of being out there is a good step.’’
The four-goalie platoon has made for some drama throughout the season but the Flyers made it through and now stand on the verge of their second playoff berth in three seasons under Hakstol.
“It’s an abnormal situation,’’ Hakstol said. “I guess I haven’t looked back and studied any past history. But injuries are always part of the game. It speaks to the quality and depth of goaltending in the organization.’’