By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor
The Flyers goaltender situation grew even more frustrating and stressful with yet another injury. Less than halfway through his first game back from injury, Michal Neuvirth exited Wednesday night’s game with a lower-body injury, only prolonging the Flyers problems in the crease.
While the Flyers got a tremendous performance from Petr Mrazek in relief, the Flyers have struggled in goal throughout the month of March. The Flyers were able to keep some stability in goal for a good part of the year, until injuries started to surface in mid-February that turned this into an out-of-control roller-coaster ride.
Going back to November, the Flyers weren’t getting the results, but they were getting the performance in goal. Brian Elliott started 10 games in November, going just 1-3-5, but had a 2.74 GAA and .920 save percentage.
As the Flyers turned the corner in December, Elliott became their mainstay in goal. He started all 13 games that month, posting an 8-4-1 record with a 2.15 GAA and .927 save percentage, numbers that certainly showcase a capable No. 1 netminder.
Into January, Elliott had a few forgettable performances mar his month. In seven starts, he posted a 3.74 GAA, but had a 5-2-0 record. Neuvirth also returned from his first stint with an injury during the month, posting a 3-2-0 record and 2.74 GAA in his seven appearances.
Elliott went down with an injury in late January, which gave Neuvirth the reigns for a bit. The Flyers tore through the month of February behind both goalies. Elliott returned for a three-game stint before suffering another injury that has kept him out ever since, but the Flyers won all three games and Elliott had a 2.21 GAA in those games.
Neuvirth also remained solid in February, with a 3-0-2 record and 2.34 GAA in six games. Then injury struck again and sidelined the Flyers other regular netminder.
In the short term, the Flyers were able to survive. Alex Lyon came on in relief of Neuvirth and picked up his first NHL win. He also won his next start two days later.
The day in between those two appearances, the Flyers got proactive ahead of the trade deadline, acquiring Petr Mrazek to provide some relief for a rookie in the heat of a playoff race. In the beginning, the change of scenery did wonders for Mrazek too.
Mrazek was a perfect 3-0-0 in his February appearances with the Flyers and had a 1.30 GAA, exactly what the Flyers were looking for in acquiring him.
But March has been a different story. Without their two regular netminders, the Flyers have struggled with their third and fourth options.
Mrazek has played in 12 games in March, posting a 2-5-3 record and a 3.66 GAA. Lyon made six appearances, going 2-1-1 with a 2.65 GAA. In four of their last eight games, the Flyers have made a goalie change midway through the game, whether for injury or performance.
Ultimately, the Flyers have gone from some stability in goal with Elliott and Neuvirth to anything but stable in the last month.
In the Flyers hot stretch from December through February, the Flyers played 38 games, going 26-9-3. Elliott and Neuvirth combined for 33 of the 38 games, posting a 21-9-3 record.
Elliott’s injury proved to be too serious and required surgery, so he was out long-term with the hope he could return in time for the playoffs. The Flyers certainly are hoping so. He was the rock in goal through a trying month of November and the start of the turnaround in December.
Neuvirth just can’t stay healthy. Even in Wednesday’s game, you saw flashes of a No. 1 netminder. There’s no question Neuvirth has the ability. He doesn’t have the durability.
Mrazek has entered as the third goalie down the line. Leading up to Wednesday’s relief appearance, there wasn’t much confidence in the goalie. He’s so hit or miss to an extreme level. It’s either a tremendous game or a shellacking.
Lyon has come in as a fourth option and been serviceable, but obviously you can’t lean on a rookie with minimal experience in a playoff race. Lyon has been better than the numbers show, but he’s also had moments where the stage looks too big.
There should be nothing ironic about the timing that things changed for the Flyers. As Elliott and Neuvirth went down, the Flyers carried the momentum for a few weeks before slipping behind their third and fourth-string goalies.
A March from the depths of goaltender hell is over. The Flyers have four games left in the regular season. They have Mrazek available for the playoffs and, at the very least, healthy. They have hope that Elliott will return and be able to appear in the playoffs. They are waiting on the status of Neuvirth, but any injury at this time of year doesn’t bode well for the playoffs.
The Flyers were already riding out the patient time of developing young goalies, knowing full well they were trying to mask an organizational problem that has gone on for decades. It was even more magnified as their capable goalies were forced to the sideline with injuries.