Consecutive wins for Sixers, who host Timberwolves on Saturday

Flyers Notebook: A shift in Flyers’ goal

Posted by Eric Fisher On February 15

Michal Neuvirth is the man. And the Flyers are hoping that Neuvirth is up to the challenge.

They don’t have much choice.

With Brian Elliott expected to miss 5-6 weeks after undergoing abdominal surgery, the Flyers will be forced to rely on Neuvirth.

On the surface, the shift in goalies doesn’t seem like a big deal. Neuvirth’s goals-against average (2.58) is better than Elliott’s (2.72), and so is his save percentage (.915 to .908). But this is a perfect example of how statistics can lie – or at least give the wrong impression.

There isn’t any question that Elliott has been the more consistent and reliable goalie. Neuvirth, as has been his history, has missed significant time with injury this season. But injury isn’t the only reason that Elliott has played 41 games while Neuvirth has only played 19. Head coach Dave Hakstol is clearly more comfortable with the steadier Elliott than with Neuvirth, who can play a terrific game one night and then allow bad goals in his next game, as was the case this past week during a 4-1 victory over the Golden Knights on Sunday and a 5-4 shootout loss to the Devils on Tuesday.

In some ways, the Flyers are victims of their own success. If they were out of the playoff picture, there wouldn’t be a problem riding Neuvirth the rest of the season, with an occasional start by Alex Lyon. With the Flyers sitting in third place in the Metropolitan Division, however, there is pressure to remain in the playoff picture.

The Flyers are two points ahead of the Devils, who have a game in hand, and three points ahead of the Hurricanes. Both of those teams are in wild card position. The Flyers are four points ahead of the Blue Jackets, whom they visit on Friday in a game with important implications for playoff position. Looking on the positive side, the Flyers are only two points behind the second-place Penguins, and the Flyers have a game in hand.

Because the Flyers are in the thick of the playoff picture, general manager Ron Hextall might try to obtain another goalie. The last thing the Flyers seem to need would be another goalie. The organization is full of young prospects, including Carter Hart, who is excelling in the Western Hockey League but is probably two seasons away from reaching the NHL. The Flyers would be looking for a goalie who doesn’t have a long-term commitment or requires anything substantial to be given up in a trade to acquire him.

Neuvirth, of course, could render this discussion moot by playing extremely well between now and the trade deadline. That could cause Hextall to roll the dice with Neuvirth.

One factor beyond Neuvirth’s control, though, is his propensity for injury. Lyon, his current backup, looked shaky in two starts, which came after Neuvirth reportedly didn’t tell Hakstol he wasn’t feeling well before being named the starter for a loss to the Capitals on Jan. 31. The Flyers don’t want to be trying to nail down a playoff spot with Lyon as their top goalie.

It will be interesting to see how this situation works itself out. What is certain, however, is that Elliott’s injury created a predicament for a team that has climbed the standings since ending a 10-game losing streak in December.


KONECNY RISING: Travis Konecny continues to blossom during the second half of this season. The 20-year-old forward ranks fourth on the Flyers in goals with 14 and sixth in points with 30.

It has been less than three years since the Flyers traded up into the first round to select Konecny with the 24th overall pick. He appeared to be struggling until being placed on the top line with Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier. But Konecny earned that opportunity with improved play. With additional confidence, Konecny is making more plays and creating opportunities. He has three goals and two assists in the Flyers’ last four games and shows no sign of slowing down.


HEALTHY LINEUP: Despite the injury to Elliott and a sequence earlier this season when all of their veteran defensemen were injured or suspended, the Flyers can’t complain about injuries. Ten Flyers have played in all 57 games this season.


DISPLAYING DEPTH: Nine Flyers have scored at least 10 goals this season. Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov, Valtteri Filppula and Michael Raffl have 10 goals apiece. Scott Laughton will join that group with his next goal.


GUDAS ON HOT STREAK: After not scoring a goal all season, defenseman Radko Gudas has scored in two straight games. One of the goal was into an empty-net, but beggars can’t be choosers.


AGENT ZERO: With Radko Gudas scoring two goals, forward Jori Lehtera is the only Flyer currently on the roster who hasn’t scored this season. Lehtera, acquired from the Blues in the Brayden Schenn trade, is scoreless in 39 games.


LINEUP CHANGE: Veteran forward Dale Weise (4 goals, 3 assists) has been back in the lineup recently, with Taylor Leier (1 goal, 4 assists) becoming a healthy scratch.


TRAVELING WELL: The Flyers may have felt as if they were playing a home game Sunday when they defeated the Golden Knights, 4-1. The game was the Flyers’ first in Las Vegas, and it sounded as if Flyers fans accounted for nearly half of the crowd. The atmosphere was similar to Eagles road games during their Super Bowl season.


RAISING WHITE FLAG: The Rangers have taken the unusual step of sending a letter to their fans in which they admit they aren’t as good as they expected to be. This admission could be an indication that the Rangers will be sellers rather than buyers at the trade deadline.


KINGS MAKE MOVE: The Kings, who have dropped out of playoff position, acquired defenseman Dion Phaneuf and center Nate Thompson from the Senators in exchange for forward Marian Gaborik and center Nick Shore. Phaneuf is a physical defenseman. Thompson is a valuable role player with past playoff success with the Lightning.


FAMILIAR FOES: If the Flyers’ opponents the rest of February seem familiar, it’s because the Flyers’ schedule this month seems to recycle the same teams. The Flyers face the Devils, Senators and Blue Jackets twice this month. They’ll face the Canadiens three times during February. Thank goodness this is a short month.


LOOKAHEAD: The Flyers visit the Blue Jackets on Friday (7 p.m.) and the Rangers on Sunday (noon) before returning home to battle the Canadiens on Tuesday (7 p.m.) and the Blue Jackets on Thursday (7 p.m.). The Flyers will then head to Canada to face the Senators on Sat., Feb. 24 (2 p.m.) and the Canadiens on Mon., Feb. 26 (7:30 p.m.), the day of the trade deadline.

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