Flyers

Why Flyers should ride Alex Lyon, not Petr Mrazek

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Why Flyers should ride Alex Lyon, not Petr Mrazek

When the Flyers acquired Petr Mrazek from Detroit out of necessity in February, Ron Hextall explained the trade as a reward for his players’ hard work.

“We’re in a tough situation — you lose your top two goalies when you’re fighting for a playoff spot,” Hextall said then, “and our players have worked hard for a long time now. I didn’t feel like it was fair to not have a proven NHL goaltender for this team.”

One month later, Mrazek has been erratic, and the Flyers’ grip on a playoff spot is loosening. With eight games remaining, Dave Hakstol owes it to his players to ride the steadier goalie, and that's not the proven NHL goaltender.

For the second time in six days, Hakstol was forced to pull Mrazek on Tuesday night, and for the second time in six days, Alex Lyon battled in relief, giving the Flyers a chance in a game they otherwise had no business being in.

Lyon stopped 11 of 12 shots Tuesday, holding off a determined Red Wings team and allowing the Flyers to fight back from a 3-1 deficit and force overtime. They lost, 5-4, in a shootout, but the point was huge.

We’re tired of hearing that too. But at this stage, and with how the Flyers have played in March, any point is needed. The goal is the playoffs, and right now, the Flyers cannot trust Mrazek.

What we’ve seen from Mrazek in his short time here explains why the Red Wings soured on him.

Mrazek showed glimpses of his potential in his first three starts as a Flyer, but since, he’s been inconsistent and unreliable.

In his last nine games, Mrazek’s 2-5-1 with a 4.03 goals-against average and .865 save percentage. He's allowed fewer than three goals just once. There have been far too many bad goals along the way too.

Last Thursday, Mrazek was pulled after yielding his fourth goal against the Blue Jackets, a team the Flyers are jockeying with for playoff position in the Metropolitan Division.

That relief appearance earned Lyon the start Saturday in Carolina, where he was again steady. Hakstol went back to Mrazek on Sunday and then again Tuesday.

Now, it’s time to ride Lyon until the rookie shows wear on his tires and until either Brian Elliott or Michal Neuvirth is healthy enough to return, which likely will not be until closer to the final week of the season.

Lyon has not looked out of place since his second call-up of the season Feb. 11. In six games — three starts — he has a .933 save percentage.

The 25-year-old passes both the numbers and eye test, and it’s time to show faith in him.

After Tuesday’s loss, the Flyers dropped to the top wild-card spot, with Columbus leapfrogging them to third in the Metro. Both teams have eight games left. The Flyers are four points ahead of the Devils, who have one game in hand.

Then, there are the Panthers, five points behind the Flyers with three games in hand. Per Hockey-Reference, the Flyers have an 88.8 percent chance at the postseason.

We’ve seen crazier collapses happen, though. When March began, the Flyers were one point behind the first-place Capitals. They’ve picked up just eight of a possible 22 points this month.

At this point, it’s about surviving, and Lyon gives the Flyers a better shot to stay above the line than Mrazek.

Flyers' focus shifts toward another busy NHL draft

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Flyers' focus shifts toward another busy NHL draft

With the Flyers' elimination from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the team's third-round pick in the 2018 NHL draft was officially transferred over to the Red Wings.

What was originally a fourth-round selection in the acquisition of goaltender Petr Mrazek was upgraded to a third-rounder once Mrazek won five regular-season games and the Flyers qualified for the postseason.

The Flyers could potentially still owe the Red Wings a third-round pick in the 2019 NHL draft if Mrazek is re-signed. However, that seems unlikely with Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth already under contract for next season and Mrazek’s poor play over the final five weeks of the regular season.

In all likelihood, the Flyers will have the 19th overall pick in the June draft, which is scheduled for June 22-23 at American Airlines Center in Dallas. If the Blue Jackets are eliminated before the Eastern Conference Finals, then they will select 18th with the Flyers slotted in at the 19th selection.

Once again, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall will be watching intently during Saturday’s NHL draft lottery, where the Flyers could also acquire the St. Louis Blues' first-round selection.

The Flyers have a 95 percent chance of obtaining the Blues' first pick as compensation in the Brayden Schenn trade that was completed at last year’s draft in Chicago. 

The Blues' pick is top-10 protected, but they have only a five percent chance of moving into the top three — 1.5 percent for No. 1 overall, 1.7 for No. 2, 1.8 for No. 3, 91.8 for No. 14 and 3.2 for No. 15. So, either the Blues draft in the top three, they remain at 14 or fall back to 15.

However, as Hextall discovered just a year ago, anything is possible.

Last year, the Flyers made the monumental leap from the 13th-worst record in the league to obtaining the second overall pick — a lottery move that had just a 2.4 percent chance of falling in their favor. With that selection, the Flyers chose Nolan Patrick.

Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin is the consensus No. 1 pick in this year’s draft and a future cornerstone blueliner. 

The NHL draft lottery is held in Toronto.

Now the pressure really picks up for Dave Hakstol, Flyers

Now the pressure really picks up for Dave Hakstol, Flyers

Dave Hakstol lifted his arm effortlessly with his hand steadily inclining toward the ceiling, almost portraying the takeoff of an airplane.

He was discussing the timeline for young hockey players, which his Flyers have a lot of and will gain only more as the blocks are stacked one by one.

And as the head coach digested a topsy-turvy, season-ending loss, his demonstration depicted what he knew wasn't the case.

"You always want development to be this smooth path and this smooth climb; it doesn't work that way," Hakstol said. "It's kind of a jagged climb, and as long as you're seeing a steady push to improve, then you stick with it and keep pushing in that direction."

The Flyers have been allowed to hit those jagged edges on their climb, like Sunday's 8-5 Game 6 defeat to the Penguins (see story). It was the final swing (and miss) in a best-of-seven first-round playoff matchup with the two-time defending champs, another cut along the grand hike for the Flyers.

But with it came a signal.

This is no longer the bottom of the mountain. The trek has been underway for three seasons and the long view should, expectedly, be coming into focus. In 2018-19, Hakstol will enter the fourth year of a five-year contract, according to CapFriendly.com. The Flyers' core, looking at its peak, will be a year older, as will the foundation pieces, already here and being counted on to drive things forward. 

The Flyers played four rookies in the playoffs, while five of their top eight regular-season goal scorers were 25 years old or younger. 

"For the most part, I liked the growth of our young guys," Hakstol said. "I think they had an opportunity to really see some tough points during the year and figure out how to be a part of battling out of them. They had the opportunity to play through and be part of a playoff push that other teams weren't going away, and we knew that with eight to 10 games to go, we knew that we would have to win our way in. So they had the opportunity to be a part of that and gain that experience of understanding and knowing how hard that is. And they were successful in that."

It resulted in 42 wins and 98 points during the regular season, both highs under Hakstol, surpassing the 41 and 96 set in Year 1. It also led to another first-round exit, the second under Hakstol against a topflight opponent. In those series, the Flyers went 1-5 at home, where they were outscored 26-9.

Harsh yet clear reminders the Flyers aren't where they want to be.

The Penguins, no duh, are. 

"We're working to build toward something like that," Wayne Simmonds said. "I thought we took a step in the right direction this year."

Claude Giroux, the 102-point, 30-year-old captain, sees it, too.

"I know for a fact that we got better as the season went on," Giroux said. "Look at our team last year and look at our team this year. We improved a lot."

While patience is always of the essence with general manager Ron Hextall, Year 4 will demand much more, unlike seasons past. This is Hakstol's team — the blocks are in place, both old and now not so new.

"There's going to be a lot of good and a lot of things that we'll say, 'Hey, these are good steps for our team,'" Hakstol said of this season. "End of the day, we didn't come into this playoff series to make steps, though."

That undoubtedly won't be the objective in 2018-19. It can't be, and the Flyers should know it.