Much has been made of the Flyers’ offensive troubles.
The numbers explain why.
Since Jan. 26, the Flyers have scored nine goals over a span of seven games. Only the Oilers have scored fewer in that stretch with eight, while the Capitals have deposited 37.
Somehow, though, the Flyers have found a way to go 3-3-1 since Jan. 26. A greater focus on a defensive brand of hockey has resulted in 14 goals against, second best in the NHL.
Ironically, such a style can put added pressure on a goalie. Less action in net makes every shot against that much bigger. Give up a goal and that could be the game.
“Obviously you’re going to need your goaltender every night,” Andrew MacDonald said Saturday, “but I think more than anything when we’re struggling to find the net a little bit here, you hope your goalie can help push you through.”
Quietly, Michal Neuvirth is thriving in that environment. He’s 3-1-1 with a 1.20 goals-against average and .946 save percentage since Jan. 26, making 106 saves on 112 shots faced.
On Saturday, it was the same old story for the Flyers — another too-close-for-comfort, low-scoring game with a 2-1 overtime victory against the defending Western Conference champion Sharks.
“It’s hard to stand up here and say our team is playing pretty good hockey when the results aren’t coming, but our team has been playing pretty good hockey,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said postgame. “We had to win a tight, close one today, 2-1, in overtime. Maybe that’s the way it’s going to be.”
If you haven’t gotten comfortable with it, you better. If anyone has, it’s Neuvirth, arguably the Flyers’ most valuable player the past two and a half weeks.
“You know, I got kind of used to it on this homestand, not to face a lot of shots,” Neuvirth said. “For me, I was confident the whole game, feeling good.”
It has been a change in approach under Hakstol. Remember when the Flyers ranked among the NHL’s top five in goals per game through the end of December? Now they’re 22nd with 2.54 a night. In their last four wins, the Flyers have allowed just four goals while scoring nine.
“It’s a little different than a wide-open, 7-6 type of game,” Hakstol said of Saturday’s OT win. “Whatever the situation is, Neuvy looked very comfortable, he did a good job.
“Tight game, that’s his job to close the door.”
Neuvirth is trying to rewrite the script of an important contract year. He’s set to be a free agent this offseason, as is goalie partner Steve Mason. Neuvirth started this season with a 3.54 goals-against average and .859 save percentage in his first nine games before missing nearly two months with a left knee injury.
“Just going game by game and see what happens,” Neuvirth said in October before the season opener. “I can’t predict anything. I can only control what I can and that’s being prepared and be in the best shape I can.”
It took some time, but now he’s on his best run and fitting Hakstol’s needs.
“I think it shows that the guys are buying in and we believe in how we play,” Claude Giroux said. “We just need to keep working and we have our game plan out there before each game and we follow it.”
And Neuvirth’s helping make it possible.