VANCOUVER, British Columbia — The clock is ticking on the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Flyers (12-14-4) are trying to prevent time from running out on their season — and their jobs — as they prepare to visit the Vancouver Canucks (14-16-4) on Saturday night.
The NHL playoffs are still a possibility, albeit a remote one. But fans and the media are focusing more on the players’ short-term future as new general manager Chuck Fletcher evaluates the organization that he took over from the fired Ron Hextall.
Flyers’ top brass did not like Hextall’s slow-build approach, so he was sacked earlier this month after four seasons. Fletcher, a former Minnesota Wild GM, has indicated that a trade is just a matter of time.
“It is difficult (to make deals in mid-season) but that’s reality — my reality,” he told Postmedia in Edmonton, where the Flyers bowed 4-1 to the Oilers on Friday night. “It’s a fun challenge. This is the time of year where everybody is looking. I don’t think there is a general manager who looks at his team and says, ‘You know what? We have every hole filled and we love our depth.’
“This has always been the active part of the season, but for me, I’m trying to get a sense from talking to other GMs: Who do you like on our team? And, who are you trying to move? Every team is hoping to add a player, fill one hole.”
While Fletcher tries to plug holes off the ice, the players are struggling to fill them on it. The Flyers were still reeling Friday from a 6-5 overtime loss Wednesday in Calgary, where they squandered a two-goal lead in the final 1:08 of regulation time and surrendered the winning tally just 35 seconds into the extra session.
After being close to returning, injured No. 1 goaltender Brian Elliott has returned to Philadelphia, apparently for treatment on a hip issue.
“He’s not going to be available for the rest of the trip,” coach Dave Hakstol told reporters Friday while sidestepping the reason for the goalie’s return home.
The club’s goaltending woes were compounded by veteran Michal Neuvirth’s return to Philly to be with his wife as she was preparing to give birth. Rookie Anthony Stolarz, who started Friday and was in goal for Wednesday’s loss, is expected to get most of the netminding work for the foreseeable future. Fellow minor-league callup Alex Lyon, promoted on Thursday due to Neuvirth’s departure, will likely serve mainly as the backup.
The Flyers have suffered four straight losses. Hakstol just wants Stolarz to continue to build his game.
Meanwhile, the Canucks hope to build momentum following a three-game road trip on which they earned five of a possible six points.
“We’ve got to be happy with our road trip from our group,” center Bo Horvat told reporters. “Both goaltenders (Jacob Markstrom and Anders Nilsson) played well, and that’ll give us a lot of confidence going home.”
The Canucks were bolstered by their second straight late-game rally in Nashville on Thursday night, although they wound up losing 4-3 in overtime.
“Like I’ve said all year, we have character in this (dressing) room,” forward Brock Boeser told Sportsnet. “(Thursday’s rally) shows our character. That’s a huge point to get.”
While the Flyers play the second game of back-to-back road contests, the Canucks will host the first of two home games on consecutive nights.
That likely means Markstrom and Nilsson will split the games. Markstrom appears likely to play against the Flyers after serving as the backup Thursday. Nilsson, who has lost seven straight games, could get the call Sunday against Edmonton.