VOORHEES, N.J. — Ron Hextall rolled into this season on a couple of bald tires.
The Flyers general manager was pushing for one more season on worn down treads, but it was inevitable at some point that the Flyers would experience a goaltending blowout, and on Friday, the GM was forced to pull off onto the side of the road to make the necessary changes.
"There's always risk," Hextall said, "Obviously, [Michal Neuvirth's] history says he's a high risk. Brian [Elliott's] doesn't. Obviously, he's not a young guy but he had an injury last year and got it fixed. Those are hard things to predict."
But like snowfall during January, the goaltending situation was one of those rather predictable occurrences where it wasn't a matter of if it happened, but when.
The news Friday is that Elliott's lower-body injury will force him to miss the next two weeks, and possibly longer if there's the slightest setback. Surprisingly, given how quickly Elliott came off the ice and how he proceeded to yell a certain four-letter expletive walking down the tunnel, the prognosis seemed rather encouraging.
"It was worse than what I had expected, but that's the way it is," said Hextall.
Or maybe that's just the way it was bound to play out.
Last season, Elliott was rushed back into action sooner than expected and attempted to good-soldier his way through the first round of the playoffs. The end result was a disaster and even if Elliott couldn't sustain further damage by playing, he needed the necessary time to properly rehab and recover.
Neuvy took to the ice on his own on Thursday, but Hextall called it a "gradual increase" and offered no timetable on his return. When the Flyers host the Tampa Bay Lightning, the top team in the Eastern Conference, Saturday afternoon, it will mark the first time that neither Elliott nor Neuvirth will be in uniform. It took all of 20 games for the inevitable to happen.
Call it a tire rotation as Cal Pickard and Alex Lyon are now at the forefront.
While you feel they're capable goaltenders who can keep the machine moving forward, they're certainly not the high-performance wheels of an Elliott, who had allowed two or fewer goals in eight of his last nine appearances. In some regards, Elliott's more than just a set of tires, he's the machine under the hood. The Flyers' recent success has been a product of his solid play in net.
Now, it's Pickard's job for the immediate future. The last time he had a consistent workload came two years ago when he led the league in losses on a really bad Colorado Avalanche team.
"We need guys to step up and I know 'Picks' has been putting in the work when he's been out and I know he's ready to go," Scott Laughton said.
The Flyers can only hope that Pickard and Lyon will provide the necessary stability, but that's all you can ask for right now.
Goaltending with this franchise feels like the wheels could fall off at any time.
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