VOORHEES, N.J. — “You need two goalies, I don’t care who you are.”
That was Ron Hextall’s assessment prior to the All-Star break and the general manager’s philosophy will be put to the test right away with three games over the next four days.
Actually, the Flyers may need three goalies at some point over the stretch drive to the postseason after the team placed Brian Elliott on injured reserve Tuesday morning, and recalled Alex Lyon from Lehigh Valley.
After missing his first game of the season last Thursday against the Lightning, Elliott returned to practice Monday, but left prematurely still dealing with a nagging lower-body injury. Elliott’s IR designation is retroactive to his last game played, so he could be activated at any time. The move was made solely to open up a roster spot for Lyon.
Neuvirth is now the expected starter Wednesday in Washington, but the bigger question moving forward: How much does Hakstol and the organization trust Lyon to make his NHL debut when the team is in a dogfight for the playoffs?
“If we need him, he’ll play. Bottom line,” Hakstol said regarding Lyon. “He’s ready to play and we have confidence in him. He’s been with us before and he’s a guy that’s ready to play, and when called upon, he’ll go in and do a good job if we decide to do that.”
Prior to the All-Star break, Hakstol tipped his hand slightly when he stated that Neuvirth would likely receive one of the two starts with back-to-back road games against the Capitals and Devils, but that was when Elliott was healthy.
“It’s a different situation,” Hakstol said. “There’s still a strong possibility that both guys (Neuvirth and Lyon) will start one. I’m not going to make that decision right now or that distinction. I won’t even go as far as saying who’s going to start tomorrow.”
Lyon has dressed for 10 games this season, but has not budged from the bench. Whether he plays his first NHL game in relief or as the starter remains to be seen, but his personal preference is to have the knowledge the net will be his from the morning skate.
“There’s something to be said for owning your own game, which I really like,” Lyon said. “Obviously I’ll take it however I can get it, but at the same time, I don’t envision myself as a spot guy. I want to start every game. I want to start as much as I can. I’m not going to try and speculate when that will be, or anything like that, I’m just keeping my head down and keep grinding.”
Neuvirth has also kept his head down recently but for all the wrong reasons. The Flyers' backup spent much of the past several days working his way through what Hextall described as a “stomach bug,” which forced Neuvirth to miss Monday’s practice.
“The worst is behind me,” Neuvirth said tongue-in-cheek as he returned to the Skate Zone ice on Tuesday.
When asked if he’s capable of starting on back-to-back nights, which Neuvirth hasn’t done this season, he was hesitant to commit.
“Let’s just focus on tomorrow first,” Neuvirth said. “It’s a big game against a really good team, so let’s just focus on tomorrow.”
Additionally, Hakstol will have to determine how much workload Neuvirth can handle with a history of injuries and a heavy workload of games coming up on the Flyers' schedule.
“I've definitely got to earn the playing time,” Neuvirth said. “I've got to push myself and you've got to play good to earn more games."
“We’ll gauge exactly how and where he’s at after today’s practice,” Hakstol said. “Today, he had a real strong practice and he looked great.”