Alain Vigneault’s decision to start Brian Elliott in goal for the Flyers against Washington on Thursday hardly came as a surprise.
The head coach not only has complete faith in the 35-year-old netminder, he also wants to make sure Elliott stays sharp in case he’s needed once the qualifying/round robin phase is completed.
Besides, it’s the perfect spot to give Elliott some work. This sets up nicely for Carter Hart to play against Tampa Bay on Saturday as a final tune-up before the opening round of 16 gets underway for the Stanley Cup playoffs sometime next week.
“Brian’s going to play,’’ Vigneault said in a Zoom call from Toronto on Wednesday morning. “Like we’ve said throughout the season, we’ve got a lot of confidence and faith in both our goaltenders.
“We’ve got three games to play in this pre-playoff tournament, so tomorrow it’s Brian’s turn. I’ve said he was going to get a game in. We feel tomorrow’s the right time to put him in.’’
Elliott has competed in 45 Stanley Cup playoff games, sporting a highly respectable 2.53 goals-against average while playing for Ottawa, St. Louis, Calgary and the Flyers.
Against the Capitals this past season, Elliott went 2-0 with a 2.00 goals against average.
“With me jumping in the lineup here, I’m going to try to give us another boost,’’ Elliott said. “And then there’s one more game before we get to the real stuff.’’
The players have faith in both goalies. Elliott offers a strong veteran presence.
“Ells has always stepped up to the plate whenever he plays,’’ Travis Konecny said. “He’s played well against Washington, he definitely knows what he’s doing. He’s got a lot of experience at this time of year. So there’s no issues there for us.’’
Vigneault spoke about possible lineup changes, including the presumed insertion of Joel Farabee to replace the injured Michael Raffl.
At the afternoon practice, Farabee was skating on the third line with center Derek Grant and winger Nicolas Aube-Kubel. James van Riemsdyk was dropped to the fourth line, where he platooned with rookie Connor Bunnaman.
“We’re just trying to find the right balance between winning and getting our team ready,’’ Vigneault said. “Knowing and anticipating that we’re going to have a long playoff run.
“So with that in mind, we’re utilizing these games obviously to win and to put out the best lineup that will give us that opportunity. But we’re also looking at the big picture. I wanted to get Joel in and maybe one more forward.’’
Farabee said he’s trying to approach his first postseason game as pretty much any other game.
“I think I’m pretty confident,’’ he said. “I’ve been with the team for a little bit now so it just kind of feels like another game. I’m excited to play. When you miss a game (vs. Boston), you’re kind of itching to get back. It should be a lot of fun.’’
The 20-year-old Farabee might even see some penalty kill time spelling Raffl.
“I always thought I could play a lot of different roles,’’ Farabee said. “I think it helps me out because it opens up small spots here and there. I’m just happy with whatever role I’ve been given.’’
Vigneault also might tinker with his defense, possibly on Saturday against the Lightning. He had Shayne Gostisbehere and Mark Friedman on the ice against Pittsburgh in the preseason game.
“There’s a good chance we might use that last game (Tampa Bay) to get someone else in, probably ‘Ghost’ or Mark,’’ the coach said.
If the Flyers should beat the Capitals, they would put themselves in excellent position for one of the top two seeds in the Eastern Conference.
Philadelphia went 3-0-1 against the Capitals this season. Vigneault listed several reasons for that dominance. That’s the first time the Flyers have gone without a regulation loss versus Washington since 2010-11 (2-0-2).
“All our games against Washington, we’ve come to play and they’ve come to play,’’ Vigneault said. “They’ve all been tight. All of them have had good scoring chances at both ends of the rink.
“What I liked about our game, they’ve been physical, there’s been a lot of contact, we haven’t shied away from it. We’ve played hard. It’s been great hockey and that’s what I expect tomorrow.’’
Vigneault went down to breakfast at the hotel and ran into Washington star Alexander Ovechkin. The two struck up a conversation about Thursday’s game.
“That usually doesn’t happen,’’ Vigneault said with a chuckle.
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