Flyers need a steady Neuvirth for playoff push

It’s nice to ride a hot goalie.

But that can only take you so far.

Heading into Thursday night’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Brian Elliott had started 18 of the Flyers’ previous 19 games.

While he performed well in a vast majority of those contests, Elliott was clearly pushed to the limit and that’s not exactly a formula for keeping your No. 1 netminder healthy.

So Michal Neuvirth got only his second start since Nov. 28 and performed admirably, particularly on a save against the Leafs’ Patrick Marleau with 2:37 to play and the score tied 2-2.

The Flyers eventually won in overtime.

That’s the kind of goaltending the Flyers need from Neuvirth if they hope to make a serious playoff push over these final three months.

The question, of course, is whether Neuvirth can shoulder a decent amount of work and still say healthy.

Most skeptics will slowly shake their heads and say no.

Others, a little more optimistically, believe Neuvirth can get back and sustain, making it more of a two-man partnership.

The Flyers have a bunch of back-to-back games down the stretch, beginning with this weekend’s dual contests against New Jersey and Washington.

It would make a lot of sense if Flyers coach Dave Hakstol began the process now, splitting the netminding duties – not only to keep Elliott fresh but to keep Neuvirth sharp.

I asked Hakstol the other day if he believes having two goalies in the mix enhances his team’s chances of success. It begins with a sustainable Neuvirth.

“The more playing time a goaltender has, I think it’s a benefit for him,’’ Hakstol said at practice on Wednesday. “Coming off his last performance (the third period on Tuesday night in New York), I felt Neuvy’s confidence was back to where it needed to be.’’

The games will get more intense as February turns to March and March turns to April. That’s when goaltending becomes a premium.

Neuvirth has shown in the past he can perform at a high level, if he can stay upright.

Two goalies would be nice to have, according to Hakstol.

“We went through the long stretch with Neuvy injured,’’ Hakstol said. “I’ve said all along, even when Moose (Elliott) was on that long run, and Neuvy coming off the injury, I said we’re going to need both guys.

“That’s absolutely true and that’s absolutely going to be the case for us. It’s a busy schedule, in the short term and if you look at over the long haul, the next 11 weeks, there’s a lot of hockey to be played.’’

When he’s on, Neuvirth can be spectacular. You saw that in the playoffs a couple years back when he shut out the high-powered Washington Capitals in the playoffs, turning aside more than 40 shots.

But then there’s the “other’’ Neuvirth, the one who gets hurt and has to sit for weeks and months at a time.

The Flyers have to hope they get the former for the remainder of this season. One good goalie won’t be enough.

Wayne Fish
About Wayne Fish 293 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.

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