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Why Ron Hextall believes in having goalie tandem for Flyers

Why Ron Hextall believes in having goalie tandem for Flyers

Sports could easily compile an endangered species list. 

In baseball, it’s the complete game pitcher.

In football, where have all the 300-carry running backs gone?

And in hockey, it’s the eradication of the 70-start workhorse goaltender.

Ten years ago, you knew exactly where to find one: New Jersey, New York, Calgary, Vancouver. But today, they’re almost nowhere to be found. 

Looking back at the 2007-08 season, amazingly, there were six goaltenders that racked up 70 or more starts that season — Martin Brodeur, Evgeni Nabokov, Miikka Kiprusoff, Ryan Miller, Roberto Luongo and Henrik Lundqvist. You could expect to see those same names year after year. Luongo and Lundqvist had four straight seasons of 70-plus starts. Kiprusoff ripped off seven in a row and Brodeur was on a whole other level reaching 70 starts an astonishing 12 times in his career.   

By comparison, only six goaltenders have reached that mark in the past seven years, with Edmonton’s Cam Talbot being the last in 2016-17. Just like baseball general managers closely monitoring pitch counts of their starters, NHL GMs are working in the backup netminders much more in today’s game.

And who better to understand this shift in the crease than goalie-turned-GM Ron Hextall, whose personal high in games played was 66 in the 1986-87 season.  

“Fifteen, 20 years ago, there’d be 18 to 20 games where you said, ‘We’re going to win all those games,’ and you’d win 90 percent of them,” Hextall said. “Nowadays, there’s not one game where you go in saying we’re going to win tonight. That’s a change in terms of workload on a goaltender. There’s close games, no 7-2 games.

“For the most part, there are one- and two-goal games and you need to be at the top of your game every night, whereas back then, you didn’t have to be at the top of your game and still win.” 

This may explain, in part, why Hextall feels it’s vital to have a surplus of goaltending entering training camp next month. It may also be why the organization has closely monitored the rehab of Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth, who both elected to stay in Voorhees, New Jersey, this summer instead of recovering back in their home countries. 

The Flyers need two highly capable goaltenders this season to have sustained success.  

“Every game is demanding physically and mentally. You need two guys,” Hextall said. “You saw what happened to Montreal when (Carey) Price went down, and you need two guys. It’s a load and it’s a partnership.” 

As a whole, the numbers suggest goaltending has incrementally improved as the workhorse has been gradually phased out. Prior to the 2017-18 season, the league-wide save percentage was .910 or higher for four straight seasons, which had not happened since the days of the Original Six. Call it good goaltending or just the way the game has evolved over the past decade.    

“Checking is very good these days. Players don’t have a lot of time and space,” Hextall said. “They don’t have time to pick the corner. Goaltending is good. Checking is very good.”

In over 50 years, only one Flyer has hit that 70 mark in appearances, and of course, it was Bernie Parent in 1973-74, when the Flyers became the first expansion team to win the Stanley Cup. 

The 2018-19 season may be the final one before the Flyers' cage belongs to Carter Hart, who many expect to be the franchise savior in net for the next 10-15 years. The previous franchise goaltender won’t expect Hart to carry that heavy workload either.    

“If you play a guy 70 games and he gets hurt, and now all of a sudden you’re picking a guy that you got pinned to the bench the whole year. ‘By the way, you’re our guy. Go get ‘em.’ That’s not fair,” Hextall said. “There’s a team element involved in this that people don’t talk about. To me, philosophically, that’s important.”

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Flyers vs. Senators: Live stream, storylines, game time and more

Flyers vs. Senators: Live stream, storylines, game time and more

For just the fifth time in the last 23 games, the Flyers failed to pick up at least a point when they lost to the Coyotes, 3-1, Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

Before a three-game road trip, the Flyers (16-8-5) will look to get back into the points business Saturday as they host the Senators (12-16-1).

Let's get into the essentials:

When: 1 p.m. ET with Flyers Pregame Live at 12:30 p.m. ET
Where: Wells Fargo Center
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

• For the most part, the Flyers were pleased with their game Thursday despite leaving the night empty-handed. Their points were valid, though.

The Flyers held the Coyotes to only 18 shots while putting up 29 themselves. On the season, the Flyers have recorded the NHL's 10th-most shots per game (32.8) and have allowed the fourth fewest (28.9). They own 10 wins when outshooting their opponent, tied for second most in the league.

What's most important is they're playing head coach Alain Vigneault's preferred style, which, more often than not, will result in points. It's a big reason why they're 14-5-4 since Oct. 21.

When you look at all the numbers after tonight, we’ll be double in possession, double in shots, double in everything. But we couldn't find a way to beat their goaltender. I like the way we worked, but execution-wise with the puck, we were a little off. A lot of people say they defended well, we had the puck all night. So that's what happened.

- Vigneault after loss to Coyotes

• Carter Hart is 7-2-2 with a 1.86 goals-against average and .931 save percentage in his last 11 starts. The 21-year-old has allowed more than two goals in only two of those 11 outings.

• The Flyers have only two regulation losses at home (9-2-4) and haven't gone back-to-back games without a point since Oct. 27-29.

• The Senators are 1-5-0 in their last six games, a stretch in which they've scored 1.83 goals per game.

Projected lineup

Forwards

Claude Giroux-Morgan Frost-Travis Konecny
Oskar Lindblom-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Scott Laughton-Kevin Hayes-Joel Farabee
James van Riemsdyk-Mikhail Vorobyev-Tyler Pitlick

Defensemen

Ivan Provorov-Matt Niskanen
Travis Sanheim-Justin Braun
Philippe Myers-Shayne Gostisbehere

Goalies

Carter Hart
Brian Elliott

 

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Flyers brought back to earth by Coyotes, suffer a first since Oct. 19

Flyers brought back to earth by Coyotes, suffer a first since Oct. 19

BOX SCORE

Despite putting up 21 goals over their five-game winning streak, the Flyers had a propensity to score them in bunches when an opponent started derailing.

On Thursday night, the Flyers never got going and were pulled back to earth in a 3-1 loss to the Coyotes at the Wells Fargo Center.

Arizona goalie Darcy Kuemper was the biggest difference. The 6-foot-5 netminder who brought an NHL-best 1.97 goals-against average and .936 save percentage to Philly stopped 28 shots.

With 4:43 left, Matt Niskanen scored the Flyers' lone goal and it ricocheted off a Coyote. Arizona iced the game with an empty-netter (see highlights).

The Flyers (16-8-5) suffered just their second regulation loss at home (9-2-4). The last time they failed to pick up a point at home was Oct. 19 when they lost to the Stars, 4-1.

Thursday night's defeat halted the Flyers' winning streak at five games and their point streak at seven. The Flyers had earned at least a point in 18 of their previous 22 games.

The Coyotes (17-9-4), who were allowing the NHL's second-fewest goals per game at 2.31, improved to 10-3-3 on the road.

• The Flyers went on two power plays in the final six minutes of the second period but could not solve Kuemper.

During those two man advantage opportunities, the Flyers put five shots on Kuemper and also misfired three times.

James van Riemsdyk found Morgan Frost with a slick backhanded pass from behind the net but the 20-year-old missed wide.

• Speaking of Frost, he had a tough game. The rookie had a turnover and some difficulty making plays.

He has gone scoreless over his last seven games following his loud start in which he scored three points in his first two games.

Maybe head coach Alain Vigneault takes him off the first line to relieve some pressure.

"Young player, in my estimation, has got a lot of confidence in himself, which is real good," Vigneault said postgame. "Tonight, there were a couple of plays with the puck, like some of our other guys, that the execution might have been a little bit off. But I think overall, the young man is working hard and trying to get better."

Will he stay on the top line?

"I'm going to watch the game and make [changes], if I have some changes to make, [Friday]," Vigneault said. "I like what the young man can bring to the game."

• Vigneault opted to play seven defensemen instead of slotting call-up Mikhail Vorobyev in at fourth-line center.

It's not a bad approach when you have seven healthy blueliners playing well. It also could mean the Flyers aren't ready to trust Vorobyev on the fourth line again.

The Senators game on Saturday looks like a better matchup for Vorobyev, who is in his fifth stint with the club since the start of last season.

• Brian Elliott hadn't lost in regulation since Oct. 29. The Flyers' backup goalie finished with 15 saves.

He allowed a first-period power play goal to Phil Kessel after Claude Giroux was whistled for a ticky-tacky slashing penalty. He then yielded a backbreaking third-period goal to Conor Garland with 7:03 left in the game.

The goalie was not the problem, though.

Sean Couturier was not a problem, either.

• The Flyers wrap up their three-game homestand Saturday when they welcome the Senators (1 p.m. ET/NBCSP).

Next week, the team opens a three-game road trip, which features matchups with the Avalanche on Wednesday (9:30 p.m. ET/NBCSN), the Wild on Saturday (7 p.m. ET/NBCSP) and the Jets on Sunday (5 p.m. ET/NBCSP+).

 

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