PITTSBURGH — Dave Hakstol appears to be defying the numbers and the eye test.
The third-year Flyers coach seems to be leaning toward using goaltender Brian Elliott in Game 2 on Friday in Pittsburgh, site of the Penguins’ 7-0 cakewalk on Wednesday.
After the game, Hakstol said his gut instinct was to come back with Elliott on Friday.
He stood by those comments following practice Thursday at the PPG Paints Arena.
Hakstol wouldn’t confirm if Elliott would get the call, but he sounded as if the player they call “Moose” would be back in the nets.
“I fully stand by what I said last night,” Hakstol said. “That was how I felt and I’m not going to move away for sure from that.”
The numbers: Elliott has a 6.42 goals-against average with an .835 save percentage against the Penguins in three games this season. He received little defensive support Wednesday and allowed five goals on 19 shots before being removed midway through the second period.
The eye test: Elliott has not looked close to his old self since he returned from missing nearly two months following core-muscle surgery. He deserves props for coming back so soon after such an extensive surgery, but his reflexes aren’t there yet.
“It’s just a matter of going back to work and having the confidence that we can definitely be better,” Elliott said, adding he felt he had a strong, productive practice Thursday.
The Flyers still believe in Elliott, but they may not have much time for him to regain his form.
“We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Moose,” defenseman Andrew MacDonald said. “When we were having some tough games, he carried the load and stole us a few and gave us that confidence we needed in those fragile times.”
“He’s pulled through for us all year,” winger Travis Konecny said.
Petr Mrazek relieved Elliott on Wednesday and allowed two goals on 14 shots. But Mrazek was thrown into a cauldron, in an electric opposing arena, against a team whose focus, sense of urgency, and speed the Flyers couldn’t come close to matching.
Mrazek has been inconsistent since the Flyers acquired him from Detroit on Feb. 19, but in 10 career playoff games with the Red Wings, he had a 1.88 goals-against average and .931 save percentage.
It may not matter who is in goal because the Penguins have torched whomever the Flyers have used this season, scoring 27 goals in five games, including five tallies in each of the four regular-season matchups.
“There was very little time and space. They were the quicker team and they executed in all the little areas of the game better than we did,” Hakstol said about Wednesday’s blowout. “You can’t go out in one practice and work on everything. It doesn’t work that way, especially at this time of the year. So we just picked a couple things we want to try to brush up on … and mostly just clearing the mind and getting the focus back on Game 2, which I think we’ve already done.”
The Penguins entered the Flyers’ zone freely, with speed, down the center of the ice and seemed to always have the puck. Conversely, the Flyers had few quality scoring chances and had little traffic in front of goalie Matt Murray (24 saves), and most of their shots came from the outside. They also had a staggering 24 shots blocked.
Offensively, the Penguins dominated, led by Sidney Crosby’s hat trick.
“They’re very good at making lateral plays,” Hakstol said.
In his three games since he returned from his injury, Elliott has been slow to react laterally and looks as if he needs time to round into his old form.
“I don’t care who is in the net. We have to do a better job in front of him,” Hakstol said.
“When you give away the puck at crucial moments on the ice, they’re going to torch you — and they did,” winger Wayne Simmonds said.
After the embarrassing loss, the Flyers huddled and had a simple message: Move on.
“It was one game. Obviously it wasn’t a pretty one, but we put that behind us and we’re ready for Game 2 here,” captain Claude Giroux said. “.. If we go home 1-1, we’ll be pretty happy with that.”
Hakstol was surprised that the Flyers looked jittery in the opener.
“I felt we were a little tight in some areas,” he said. “I didn’t know if we would be. I didn’t really expect us to be.”
Added Hakstol: “We just had too many holes. You have holes in your game and that team is going to drive a truck through them — and they did. I give them a ton of credit. They played a heck of a game. They were on it. We’ve got to be on it [Friday] night.
In Game 2, the Flyers need to have a better forecheck, must slow down the Penguins in the neutral zone, and improve their defensive gaps, MacDonald said.
“We’ve battled through a lot of adversity this year,” MacDonald said. “We’ve had some ups and downs, but in the room we’ve managed to stay on an even keel. That’s a great thing to have” during trying times.
“We talked about it after the game. Let it go,” Konecny said of the message the players gave to each other.