Flyers

End to End: How should the Flyers employ their 2-goalie system?

End to End: How should the Flyers employ their 2-goalie system?

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 CSNPhilly.com reporters John Boruk, Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.

The topic: How should the Flyers employ their two-goalie system?

Boruk
Ah, Flyers goaltending … a topic that’s always relevant in Philadelphia.

If you follow me on Twitter you would know I certainly didn’t hold back in my assessment and feelings of Steve Mason, who I thought was a middle-of-the-road goaltender despite above-average athleticism for a player of his size. So when general manager Ron Hextall elected to pass on Mason for a cheaper, less drama-filled Brian Elliott, I was all for the move considering it’s a transitional signing before one of the younger prospects is NHL ready.

The history of Flyers goaltending suggests you will need two and very likely three capable goaltenders to make it through an 82-game schedule. Over the past 20 years, would you believe only one Flyers goaltender has made 60 or more starts in a season? Mason started exactly that number in 2013-14 when he finished seventh in Vezina Trophy voting. 

Considering Elliott has started 50 or more games only once in his 10-year career and Michal Neuvirth’s career-high is 44 starts in 2010-11, I don’t expect either netminder to be a steady workhorse. Elliott endured a significant “lower-body injury” in February 2016 that took him out of action for a month while Neuvirth was also placed on the long-term injury list with a knee injury back in November. How the starts are divided will depend primarily on health.

If he can stay relatively injury free, then I believe Elliott will receive the majority of starts after a bad start with the Flames last season. He struggled out of the chute while he adjusted to life as a new father. Elliott was dismal through November (13 starts) before he found his stride from December through March propelling the Flames into the postseason with a 23-6-2 record.

Neuvirth, on the other hand, never seemed to get on track despite a stellar 2015-16 year with the Flyers. He had a chance to seize the No. 1 job in late February but failed to do so following back-to-back games against the Capitals and Penguins when he surrendered eight goals in those two games. Neuvirth seems to thrive more when he’s the guy pushing an established No. 1 goalie, as opposed to being the lead horse. Hextall brought him back knowing he needed to expose a goalie in the expansion draft while electing to protect Anthony Stolarz.

So here’s how I see the starts being divided up for the 2017-18 season:

Elliott — 48
Neuvirth — 27
Stolarz/Alex Lyon — 7    

Dougherty
Neuvirth has never started more than 29 games in two years with the Flyers. He's never played more than 32 games, either. Yet, the Flyers were comfortable signing him to a two-year contract extension and move on from Steve Mason, a much more reliable goaltender. Neuvirth will be part of a tandem again this season with his partner being Elliott.

I don't see Neuvirth staying healthy again. Until he proves that he can, we can't expect him to play more than 32 games this season. That's not a lot of games. I see the Flyers' goalie situation playing out with Elliott carrying most of the load by default, and either Anthony Stolarz or Alex Lyon seeing NHL action this season too. I just can't trust Neuvirth to stay on the ice. I do, however, expect Neuvirth to be better than his 2016-17 showing.

There was not a single qualified goaltender in the NHL with a worse save percentage than Neuvirth's .891 last season. He can't possibly be any worse this season. (Can he?) Unlike last season, where I saw Mason as the clear-cut No. 1, the separation between Elliott and Neuvirth is not that far apart. I view Elliott as a cheaper Mason, which he is. He's not as good as Mason and he costs about half as much as the former Flyers' goalie.

Before his only season in Calgary — one that was filled with inconsistency — Elliott starred in a tandem role in St. Louis. I don't believe the Flyers will see the Elliott from his Blues day. I think we can expect somewhere in the range of a 2.50 goals-against average and .915 save percentage from the 32-year-old goalie. Not great but not terrible, either.

For me, the Flyers' biggest question this season is their goaltending situation. As long as Neuvirth bounces back to what he was his first season in Philly and Elliott can at least duplicate — if not improve — his numbers from last season, they should be a playoff team.

Hall
Neuvirth will get every opportunity to handle the heavier load of playing time.
 
It will be up to him to hold it.
 
Of course, he has a track record of injuries. He first needs to prove he can stay healthy, then second show he's far better than how he performed last season.
 
But there was a real sense of motivation from Neuvirth when he spoke after the 2016-17 campaign ended. He was not happy with himself and admitted there was "extra pressure" because of the contract year and "all the speculating of who's the guy, who's not the guy."
 
Neuvirth is no longer facing those pressures. I believe he'll come into training camp not only determined but also clearheaded and focused. I think we'll be surprised by the 29-year-old and see more of the 2015-16 Neuvirth, the goalie that went 18-8-4 with a 2.27 goals-against average, .924 save percentage and was terrific in the playoffs.
 
In writing that, it's hard to predict Neuvirth will stay injury-free when he hasn't shown he can in the past. That's why Elliott was such a wise signing by the Flyers. He's an experienced and dependable goalie who will get his time between the pipes.
 
Neuvirth should be better, but Elliott will be good, too, because he's had success in all roles. Given what we know about both, expect around a 50-50 split and true tandem in net.

Paone
The Flyers obviously believe in Neuvirth. If they didn't, they wouldn't have given him that two-year contract extension last March in the midst of yet another injury-plagued season as Mason held the fort down without any sort of long-term security.

That's enough proof right there that the organization clearly sees him as the No.1 guy coming into the season. The Flyers wanted him. They didn't even want to risk letting him hit the free-agent market.

But there will always be an "if" attached to Neuvirth because of the injury concerns. Thanks in large part to various lower-body issues, Neuvirth has started just 29 and 24 games in his two seasons in Philadelphia. In his career, he's only started more than half the amount of games in a season once, 2010-11 in Washington when he started 44 of the Capitals 82 games. So just once in his nine seasons in the league has Neuvirth started more than half of his team's games.

While the Flyers like Neuvirth, Hextall and staff knew they needed a more reliable option behind Neuvirth than Anthony Stolarz or Alex Lyon or any other young goalie in the system. That can't help but be the mindset when you know the goalie you like just can't stay healthy. Hence bringing in Elliott and his veteran presence as free agency kicked off in July.

To me, there is no doubt that the Flyers' net belongs to Neuvirth when the season gets underway and it's up to him for how long he keeps it. If he can play a consistently solid game in net and, most importantly, stay healthy, there's no reason Dave Hakstol shouldn't allow Neuvirth to take the lion's share of the workload.

But there's that word again when it comes to Neuvirth — "if."

And it's gotten to the point now where the reality is we basically have to prepare for Neuvirth to miss an extended period of time or two with an injury. It's almost like it's built into the schedule anymore.

So I expect Elliott to get his fair share of time in the Flyers' net, too. A two-time All-Star, he's a seasoned pro who has played the platoon role before in St. Louis and knows how to handle all the intricacies that come with it. He'll be ready to step in for those extended periods Neuvirth is known to miss. Elliott has been on that rollercoaster before and it won't phase him if he plays 10 games in a row or has to sit for eight more. He's a pro.

How do I see this playing out this season?

My gut tells me to expect about a 60-40 split in favor of Neuvirth if — there's that word again — he stays healthy.

But that number could easily shift in favor of Elliott (and possibly even more) sooner rather than later.

Flyers Weekly Observations: Claude Giroux's redemption tour beats on

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Flyers Weekly Observations: Claude Giroux's redemption tour beats on

It was a busy week on the ice for the team that calls South Philadelphia home.

And that busy week ended with plenty of positive vibes for the Flyers after a 2-1-0 showing.

They kicked things off with a commanding 5-1 victory over the visiting Florida Panthers on Tuesday night, followed that up with a tough 1-0 loss to the Nashville Predators on Thursday evening and wrapped up the week with a hard-earned 2-1 victory over the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday afternoon as the five-game homestand rolled on.

There’s plenty to get to, so, now that the ink is dry, let’s dive right into the week that was for the Flyers.

• In the days and weeks leading up to this season, there were a plethora of questions surrounding the Flyers, and to some extents, there still are as the season is still in its infancy, just eight games in. But the captain is already answering all the questions about him, and there were a lot of them. Claude Giroux played a key role again this week for the Flyers, scoring two goals — a breakaway snipe Tuesday past Roberto Luongo and a power-play slam dunk past Cam Talbot to open the scoring Saturday.

Giroux's tally against the Oilers was his fifth of the season. For comparison’s sake, Giroux didn’t record his fifth goal last season until Nov. 29, the 24th game of the season. Two things are noticeable when it comes to Giroux. Yes, the move to left wing alongside Sean Couturier and Jake Voracek is paying dividends and providing energy, not just for Giroux, but also as a whole for the line, which continues to produce. Couturier scored his fourth of the season Tuesday and Voracek, while still scoreless, is tied for third in the league with 10 assists.

But much more importantly for Giroux, he’s clearly healthy again, which wasn’t the case most of the last season as the effects from hip surgery lingered and anchored him. The fact of the matter is, in many ways, Giroux is still the engine of the Flyers’ offense and the cog that makes it go. The puck is still on his stick a ton and opposing teams still key in on him. It comes as no surprise a healthy, producing Giroux is igniting a Flyers offense that is averaging 3.50 goals. As the captain goes, so do the Flyers. So far, better than so good.

• You can say what you want about Andrew MacDonald and his play and his contract. But that’s a different conversation for a different day. There’s no doubting MacDonald is one tough hombre after blocking a debilitating slap shot off the knee Saturday and fighting through it to continue killing a penalty in the third period. If you’re still wondering why MacDonald wears an “A” on his sweater during road games, wonder no more. He’s a tough, valued veteran who has the respect of the locker room thanks to plays like that. The Flyers announced Sunday he will miss 4-6 weeks with a lower-body injury, presumably from that play. If you’re one of the ones behind a keyboard celebrating his injury on Twitter, grow up.

• There’s really not much shame in the loss to Nashville on Thursday. The defending Western Conference champion Predators, just as good as they were last year when they came within two wins of the Stanley Cup, just smothered the Flyers. And when the Flyers did have chances, Pekka Rinne was there between the pipes to snuff them out. His third-period pad save on Couturier, who had just pulled off a nifty maneuver in the slot, was a dandy that kept the Preds on top. A loss is a loss and it’s frustrating, but the Flyers hung with one of the most complete teams in the league twice in the span of nine days.

• Wayne Simmonds just continues to do Wayne Simmonds things. On Thursday against the Preds, Simmonds took an errant stick to the mouth as he was observing the action on the bench. He left but later returned to the game. Of course, he was right back in the lineup Saturday afternoon, albeit with a mouth protector attached to his helmet.

And of course, he scored Saturday’s game-winner with 2:15 left in regulation off a lovely feed from Valtteri Filppula. Simmonds admitted afterward he was losing pucks in his feet due to the impaired vision from the mouth protector and he would have to get some dead teeth extracted soon. That last part sounds just awful, by the way.

But as far as toughness and results on the ice from Simmonds, it’s gotten to the point where we expect nothing less. No surprise, but he now leads the Flyers with six goals on the young season.

• It was the best and worst this week for prized rookie Nolan Patrick. On Tuesday, he wowed the Panthers, his Flyers teammates and the entire Wells Fargo Center with a dazzling, through-the-legs drop pass to Dale Weise, who then promptly deposited the Flyers’ fourth goal of the evening in the victory over the Panthers (see video). Seriously, what an unreal pass that was. That was uncanny awareness and hockey sense and incredible skill. And remember, he’s just 19 years old.

We got a reminder Saturday afternoon that he is just 19 and the lumps will come along with the highlight reel plays. During the second period against Edmonton, Patrick found himself with the puck in the corner in the defensive zone. He hesitated, perhaps mesmerized by the broken stick on the ice in front of him, and was quickly surrounded by the Oilers’ Patrick Maroon, who picked the rook’s pocket, drove toward the net and beat Brian Elliott to knot the game at 1-1.

A tough learning experience for Patrick, but the teenager will learn from it and get better. It’s the kind of thing you just naturally have to expect from a 19-year-old just eight games into his NHL career.

Coming up this week: Tuesday vs. Anaheim (7 p.m./NBCSP), Thursday at Ottawa (7:30 p.m./NBCSP), Saturday at Toronto (7 p.m./NBCSP+).

Injury to Andrew MacDonald could clear way for Flyers' top prospect

Injury to Andrew MacDonald could clear way for Flyers' top prospect

A roster spot for Samuel Morin appears to have opened up.

Andrew MacDonald will miss 4-6 weeks with a lower-body injury, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall announced Sunday. MacDonald will likely land on injured reserve.

The injury likely occurred midway through the third period against the Oilers on Saturday, when MacDonald blocked a Mark Letestu slap shot with 10:48 left in regulation and 1:44 left on an Edmonton power play.

MacDonald hobbled around on basically on one leg before being able to clear the puck and make it to the bench after 44 seconds. MacDonald blocked a game-high six shots Saturday.

“You just got to get up,” MacDonald said after the Flyers’ 2-1 win. “If you don’t get up, it’s 5-on-3. There are other opportunities that can arise from it. Do your best and try to hang in there. Wait for some help. Wait until you clear it. Everyone battles through it.

“You take a shot. You just get up, get back in there and help your guys.”

With MacDonald injured, the Flyers now have six defensemen. Brandon Manning has been a healthy scratch the past two games as Travis Sanheim drew back into the lineup.

The Flyers have yet to make a corresponding roster move, but considering Morin nearly made the team out of training camp and hung around for the four-game season-opening West Coast trip, it’s a safe assumption that Morin will find his way back to the NHL.

Morin had a goal and an assist for the Phantoms on Saturday night, an assist Friday night and points in all his three games in Lehigh Valley.

If Morin does come back up, the question is will he play?

The Flyers were reluctant to play three rookie defensemen on their season-opening trip and scratched both Sanheim and Morin for the season opener.

Things have changed now, though. MacDonald is third on the Flyers in ice time, averaging 19:36 while playing with Ivan Provorov, who will now find himself with a new partner.

Dave Hakstol could insert Manning into the lineup, which is a strong possibility. How Hakstol draws up his pairings remains to be seen, though it’s unlikely he’ll break up Shayne Gostisbehere and rookie Robert Hagg. It’s possible Provorov finds himself with Manning or Morin, or perhaps Radko Gudas. We’ll know more after Monday’s practice.

Calling up Morin is not Hextall’s only option. The Flyers also have T.J. Brennan in the AHL, who is a better fit as a seventh defenseman but he's currently injured. Mark Alt could be another option for the Flyers.