End to End: Can Flyers trust Michal Neuvirth as No. 1 goalie?

End to End: Can Flyers trust Michal Neuvirth as No. 1 goalie?

Throughout the offseason, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

Going End to End today are producers/reporters Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.

The question: Do you trust Michal Neuvirth as the No. 1 goalie and who should the Flyers pursue in free agency?

Do I trust Michal Neuvirth as the No. 1? I do not and I've made that perfectly clear before. I believe the Flyers made a mistake signing Neuvirth over Steve Mason, but that is where we are. Going forward with the presumption Vegas will stay away from Neuvirth — or the injured Anthony Stolarz — in the expansion draft, Neuvirth will be the Flyers' No. 1 goalie.

Neuvirth is too unreliable to be depended on as a team's No. 1 netminder. I think that is why he signed another short-term contract. Sure, it aligns with general manager Ron Hextall's vision and desire to have two goalies on short-term deals as placeholders. But Neuvirth's injury history is too long for any team to commit to him on a long-term contract. I don't believe he would have fetched anything longer than three years on the open market — and that is not even taking into account his performance last season.

In 2016-17, Neuvirth sported the NHL's worst save percentage at .891. His 2.82 goals-against average was 33rd among qualified goalies (minimum 27 starts). This is not a Mason-Neuvirth debate — we've had that before. This is about Neuvirth. He was too inconsistent this season and failed to put together any consistent stretch. Even in February, when head coach Dave Hakstol started him in nine of the team's 11 games, Neuvirth did not show any signs of being able to grab a hold of the Flyers' No. 1 job. He had an .890 save percentage during February and a 2.56 goals-against average.

Hextall made it clear during the team's breakup day that he still believes platoons can work — despite it not working this season and other teams that used it in the past moving on from that philosophy. Since the Flyers' crease again will likely be split, it is a safe assumption that Mason is moving on too. He said he's open to returning, but not in a platoon situation. Hextall has said he hasn't closed the door on Mason.

So now the question turns to who will be the other goalie in 2017-18. I don't believe it will be Stolarz. Despite a solid showing in limited action with the Flyers, Stolarz had a mediocre 2016-17 season with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, and I don't believe the Flyers view him as the future in net. That will be Carter Hart or Felix Sandstrom. Alex Lyon might be ahead of Stolarz, too. Stolarz's injury doesn't help his cause, either. He'll have to show he's fully healthy in camp. I don't think Hextall will bank on that. He'll sign a free-agent goalie.

There are three names I imagine Hextall will target this summer: Ryan Miller, Jonathan Bernier and Brian Elliott. All three match with the short-term criteria Hextall is looking for. Miller and Elliott each have had previous experience serving as a No. 1. Miller was once one of the league's top-tier goaltenders, but he's now 36 and no longer the same goalie. Bernier was once a Los Angeles Kings prospect with a bright future, but he never panned out as projected. He's been a serviceable backup with the Maple Leafs and now the Ducks.

These are the types Hextall will explore this summer. My early money is on Bernier.

Let's assume the Flyers don't re-sign Mason (but don't count that out entirely).

I genuinely believe Neuvirth will have a rebound season and look more like the goalie from 2015-16.

My only concern is his health. Neuvirth seldom stays injury-free for a full season.

And that's where things can get tricky for the Flyers if Hextall doesn't sign an experienced goalie this offseason for insurance purposes.

I would like to see the Flyers rely on Neuvirth and Stolarz, who needs to be trotted out much more often as it's time to see what the 23-year-old can do in a larger NHL sample size.

But, again, if Neuvirth gets hurt, then the Flyers have Stolarz and probably the 24-year-old Lyon, who is a restricted free agent this offseason and was playing at Yale a little over a year ago.

With the volatility of Neuvirth's health, Hextall should and will likely sign a veteran netminder for cheap and short term — someone that can handle the job if injuries arise and prevent the organization's young goalies from being totally thrown into the fire.

None of this will impede the development of Stolarz and company. Because at the end of the day, they'll be needed, just like an insurance policy is needed in net for the Flyers.

However, don't be surprised to see Neuvirth come out strong in 2017-18. He's more than anxious to prove himself after last season.

My answer to this question doesn't necessarily have to do with Neuvirth's talent. I do think he is a talented goaltender, but much like with every other goaltender in the league, he has his flaws. And some of those flaws are more prevalent then others. For example, he, like the rest of the Flyers, was incredibly inconsistent this season. Hence his low numbers, which made the timing of his in-season contract extension curious.

But Neuvirth's biggest flaw is a glaring one that's been an anchor tied to his entire career — his inability to stay healthy. The unfortunate story arc of the former second-round draft pick's career has been that basically whenever he's had a chance to become a No. 1 goalie in the league, he gets injured. It's happened in both his seasons in Philadelphia thus far. Remember that knee injury at the end of 2015-16 right as the Flyers were making their push to the playoffs? Or another knee injury early on this past season that cost him several weeks?

The tendency to be injured is why Neuvirth just can't be trusted to be the Flyers' No. 1 netminder and carry a bulk of the games this coming season. Hextall knows his players, so he surely knows that he needs a capable 1-B option beside Neuvrith. And, yes, I say 1-B option because I do believe we're heading in the direction of another goaltending share like there was between Neuvirth and Mason the past two years. And I have a gut feeling that it won't involve Stolarz or any of the Flyers' other goalie prospects just yet.

Hello, free agency.

This free-agent signing would be a short-term one. Ben Bishop, who recently was traded to Dallas and then inked a six-year extension with the Stars, was looking for term. So he was never a real option anyway.

Mason, Miller and Elliott are the biggest names on a now even thinner free-agent market. We know Mason's story here and signs currently point to a mutual parting. And Miller and Elliott don't do anything for my tastes, personally.

I think Bernier is the guy to zero in on here. Remember, Hextall and goalie coach Kim Dillabaugh are very familiar with Bernier as all three were together in Los Angeles several years ago. Another goalie who I think could be an interesting move is New Jersey's Keith Kinkaid. I know his record wasn't great this season (8-13-1), but he had an awful Devils team playing in front of him. But with that awful Devils team in front of him, he still put up a 2.64 goals-against average and .916 save percentage. Yes, he beat the Flyers three times, too. But I like the way he plays. He's a fighter in net and doesn't give up on plays. That's such an important quality for a goalie to have.

Only one thing is for sure here: with the expansion draft and free agency rapidly approaching, we won't have to wait awfully long for answers to these goalie questions.

Hall's late OT goal helps Devils keep pace with Flyers

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Hall's late OT goal helps Devils keep pace with Flyers

RALEIGH, N.C. — Taylor Hall scored on a rebound with 22 seconds left in overtime, giving the New Jersey Devils a 3-2 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday.

The goal extended Hall's league-best streak of games with a point to 18.

New Jersey had won the first of the teams' four meetings this season on Thursday night to start the Hurricanes' three-game losing streak.

Keith Kinkaid stopped 40 shots for the Devils.

The Devils led 1-0 after a first period in which the Hurricanes outshot them 13-9.

Nico Hischier scored New Jersey's first goal on a power play midway through the first, assisted by Sami Vatanen and Kinkaid (see full recap).

Matthews scores in final minute to give Maple Leafs win over Red Wings
DETROIT — To Jeff Blashill, the outcome came down to one simple fact.

"They made one more play than us," the Detroit coach Blashill said.

To Toronto center Auston Matthews, it came down to persistence.

"We've got a lot of chances the last couple of games," Matthews said. "We had some pretty good chances tonight, the puck just wouldn't go in.

"It was nice to finally finish it off there with a half a minute left."

Matthews scored with 30.2 seconds left to give the Maple Leafs a 3-2 victory over the Red Wings on Sunday night.

James van Riemsdyk and Mitch Marner also scored for Toronto, and Curtis McElhinney made 27 saves (see full recap).

McDavid notches 3rd hat trick of season in Oilers' victory vs. Avalanche
DENVER — Late in the second period, with his team outplaying Colorado, Edmonton coach Todd McLellan couldn't believe his Oilers were trailing 2-1.

"Jay Woodcroft and I looked at each other and said, `How are we losing this game?'" McLellan said.

They didn't, thanks to another big game by Connor McDavid.

McDavid had his third hat trick of the season and fourth of his career, and the Oilers beat the Avalanche 4-2 on Sunday to snap a six-game losing streak.

McDavid now has 11 goals in the last nine games and two hat tricks. His first two goals tied the game, and his last one was into an empty net with 1:26 remaining (see full recap).

Sheahan scores twice in Penguins' win over Blue Jackets 
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Riley Sheahan scored two goals in the first period, rookie Tristan Jarry had 35 saves and the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-2 on Sunday night.

Jake Guentzel had a goal and two assists, and Brian Dumoulin and Zach Aston-Reese also scored for the Penguins. They have won five straight and 10 of their last 12. The win in front of a sellout crowd at Nationwide Arena moved them past Washington into first place in the Metropolitan Division.

The 22-year-old Jarry played well standing in for starter Matt Murray, who got a rest as Pittsburgh played the second leg of a back-to-back and its third game in four days. It was Jarry's first NHL action in a month after going 3-0 in three starts for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the AHL.

Artemi Panarin and Alexander Wennberg scored, and Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 18 shots for the Blue Jackets. They have lost two straight and seven of the last nine. In what is becoming the norm lately, Columbus outshot its opponent (37-23) but couldn't score enough to win. The Blue Jackets lead the NHL in shots per game but are lingering near the bottom of the division (see full recap)

Alex Lyon unfazed by the moment in massive relief effort

Alex Lyon unfazed by the moment in massive relief effort


NEW YORK — Entering a game cold to start the second period following a wild six-goal first period while staring down at future Hall of Famer Henrik Lundqvist at the other end of the rink may have intimidated most rookies, but Alex Lyon simply wasn’t phased. Not this time. 

Perhaps Lyon didn’t have a moment to absorb the magnitude of the moment, and even better, playing on the grand stage of Madison Square Garden didn’t overwhelm him at all. After all, for Lyon, the best way to earn that first NHL victory was in a building where he had never lost. Lyon is now a perfect 4-0 in games at the Garden, dating back to his days with Yale and their battles with Ivy League rival Harvard.

“I actually did take a comfort in that,” Lyon said. “I’ve been here, I’ve won here. You know the surroundings here a bit, so it’s good. When you’re in college and you look at the building and say, ‘Oh my God, it’s huge’, but now that I’ve seen a lot of NHL and AHL rinks it calms things down a little bit.” 

Sunday, Lyon came off the bench in relief of Michal Neuvirth to stop 25 of 26 Rangers shots in leading the Flyers to a 7-4 win over their Metropolitan Division rivals (see observations)

“It really does make a difference when you get that first win, especially after my first start against New Jersey where I felt like I could have uplifted the team there and we lost late. I’m just happy I could contribute,” Lyon said. 

The Flyers announced after the first period that Neuvirth would not return to the game after suffering a lower-body injury. Neuvirth was slow getting to his skates on a Rangers 2-on-1 goal where he was forced to fully extend himself moving post-to-post. 

“You never want to see injuries happen and you never want to see them in key areas, but it is part of the game,” said head coach Dave Hakstol. “With Neuvy and (Brian Elliott) being down, it’s a challenge. Alex stepped in today and did the job. And that’s what our guys will rally behind going forward.”

On the 50th anniversary of the very first game at the current Madison Square Garden, which coincidentally was played between the Flyers and Rangers, the two bitter rivals had no problem turning back the clock to a time when fighting went hand-in-hand with scoring goals. Shayne Gostisbehere dropped the gloves for the first time in his NHL career with Rangers forward Pavel Buchnevich, who laid out Travis Konecny with a hard hit on the opening shift of the game.

“I’d never done that before, but the boys were happy I did it,” Gostisbehere said. “I just heard the loud noise and I saw him on the ground. I thought he got smoked and I passed it to him so, I don’t know, I dropped the gloves.”

“It was cool. It was a fun game. It’s not how we drew it up. 3-3 after the first. As a team, our coach said we didn’t really have it tonight, but we found ways. I think the boys stood up for one another and we went out there and got the job done.”

Most impressively after a dismal defensive effort in the opening 25 minutes and facing the adversity of losing another goaltender, the Flyers still found a way to earn a victory during a time of the season when earning points are vitally important. The Flyers have now collected at least a point in their last eight games with a 6-0-2 record dating back to Feb. 3.

“Sometimes you have those nights,” Hakstol said. “Guys were ready to go. There were three scraps in the early parts of the game. It was one of those nights playing against a good offensive team. We weren’t sharp enough and we weren’t quite hard enough with or without the puck, but we recovered enough to get the two points.”

Fortunately, the Flyers were still able to dismantle a fragile Rangers team that has plummeted to last place in the Metropolitan Division by racking up seven goals against Lundqvist for the first time in 56 career games against the Orange and Black.

“Obviously, there were a lot of mistakes,” Lundqvist said. “They’re getting deflections in our net, odd-man rushes. I just have to start with myself, somehow find energy and confidence to play your game, but it’s hard when you give up so many goals to stay confident.” 

“You got to get to the net. There were some flash screens and just a good job of getting pucks to the net and winning net-front battles and it kinda went both ways,” said MacDonald.

Notable stats
• The Flyers are digging the day games, now 7-1-3 in afternoon starts.

• The top line dominated once again with seven points and a plus-five rating. Konecny registered his first career three-point game and Claude Giroux scored his 200th career goal.

• The Flyers scored seven goals on the Rangers for the first time since November 11, 1992, at the Spectrum.

• The Flyers have not allowed a power play in back-to-back games, which has not happened since the NHL began tracking those number through box scores dating back to 1977.