Michal Neuvirth is now the Flyers' lead horse in net for the foreseeable future.
If the past week has served as any indication, Neuvirth appears ready for the responsibility. Since stepping in for Alex Lyon Feb. 3 against the Ottawa Senators, Neuvirth has stopped 44 of 45 shots and 10 of 11 in shootouts earning two wins and an additional point after regulation.
It’s been a rather bizarre past two weeks that began with Neuvirth admitting to feeling light-headed and dehydrated in the Flyers' 5-3 loss to the Washington Capitals on Jan. 31, which came a few days after saying his problems “were behind him.”
“I think he’s dealing with things better,” said defenseman Radko Gudas, “The games he played I don’t think we helped him much as well. He was unlucky enough to pick the games when we weren’t our sharpest. Of course he wasn’t 100 percent, and after last year’s scary moment, he wanted to make sure that he feels the best he can to get in there and get us two points.”
Gudas is referring to last April’s game against the Devils when Neuvirth suddenly collapsed on the ice, left the game on a stretcher and was hospitalized for precautionary reasons.
As of Tuesday afternoon, general manager Ron Hextall had not provided a medical update regarding Brian Elliott’s condition, but if the Flyers are forced to ride Neuvirth over the final 26 games of the regular season, he must perform better than he did at this time a year ago.
“Neuvy will go out and do his job,” said head coach Dave Hakstol. “He did that in Vegas. There’s no overemphasis on anything. There’s a lot of imperfect situations. You band together and you go do a job and right now Neuvy has a job to do for our team.”
While earning the starting nod over Steve Mason last season at this time, Neuvirth won just two of his final ten starts of the season with an .890 save percentage in the month of February. However, his performance recently has helped solidify the trust and confidence with his teammates.
“He’s been unbelievable in the past so we have a lot of trust in him and we know he can get the job done,” said center Sean Couturier. “He fights a lot and we’re lucky to have him.”
“We’ve got confidence with him in net, a lot of confidence,” said forward Wayne Simmonds. “He gets us that win in a shootout. He comes in in a pinch and does a great job, and then he plays unbelievable against Vegas. Of course we have faith in him.”
Giroux's first star
Claude Giroux may need a new tissue box in his locker stall as he continues to overcome the remaining remnants of a weekend illness that nearly knocked him out of Saturday’s game in Arizona.
“There’s like a little flu going on. I think Saturday was worse. Sunday I just felt no energy really. I didn’t get to play a lot so that was kinda good, play 13 minutes or so,” said Giroux. “To get a big win in Vegas I think is good for the team. At the same time, we can’t get comfortable here. We’ve got to keep pushing.”
“He’s got a strong mind and a strong body, and if he’s not dead, he’s going to play the game,” said forward Wayne Simmonds. “That shows the type of character and type of player he is.”
As a result of gutting out Giroux earned the NHL’s first star this week following his three-game effort that started with a three-point night against the Montreal Canadiens. Giroux added goals against the Coyotes and the Golden Knights finishing the week with six points. The captain admitted he’ll glance at the out-of-town scores at the arena and see the results of the games from the other Metropolitan Division teams.
“It’s hard not to look,” said Giroux. “It’s up there and sometimes during timeouts you’re looking around. I think it’s good mentally to see what the other teams are doing.”
Hakstol typically doesn’t share and disclose his expectations and goals for his team, but Tuesday morning he opened upon slightly on the current path of the Flyers.
“A couple of points behind where I’d want to be,” said Hakstol, who told the media where the Flyers are in the standings in relation to the playoff chase.
The Flyers come into Tuesday’s game with the Devils occupying the third automatic spot in the Metropolitan Division, and just a point shy of the Penguins for second place.
If you project their 65 points in their first 56 games the Flyers are currently on a 95-point pace to finish the season, which would appear to be sufficient enough to snag one of the two wild-card spots. Perhaps Hakstol has bigger expectations in mind with the potential of earning home ice advantage in a first-round playoff series.
“There’s a certain level of play and success and number of points that we have to generate to give ourselves a chance to be a playoff team, and that’s where we spend our time and effort, and what do we need to do to gain points and get ourselves to that mark.”