If the Flyers thought injuries to both of their regular goaltenders was a significant hurdle to overcome, or just the advent of the type of late-season adversity any and every good team has to overcome … they just dealt themselves a triple shot of melodrama.
There will be no announcement of the upper- and lower-body sort, but it’s quite possible that goalie No. 3, better known as recent acquisition Petr Mrazek, is now day to day with a bruised psyche.
That’s because with 10 games remaining in a regular season that for the previous two weeks had been steadily slipping away from his once-confident Flyers, coach Dave Hakstol was moved to go with his last option – hoping a rookie Yalie could somehow bail out his team of failies.
Then again, isn’t the state of Flyers goaltending always loaded with intrigue?
Lyon, the Yale goalie who replaced Mrazek with the Flyers down a pair of goals to Columbus in the second period Thursday night, stopped 12 mostly excellent Blue Jackets scoring chances, giving his team a shot to get back in the game. … Which it couldn’t, of course.
But, moving forward, Lyon will now have a chance to play crease savior, as he proved in his fairly brilliant performance during a 4-2 win at Carolina on Saturday night.
“It’s exciting for me to come in and play well, but at the same time, I think everybody’s objective right now has to be, ‘How can the Flyers secure a spot in the playoffs?'” Lyon said after the Blue Jackets loss. “I don’t want to excuse myself from that because I haven’t been here very long. I just want to embrace that mentality. It’s infectious, it really is. So (I’m) just trying to kind of take that approach.”
That loss was the seventh in the Flyers’ last eight games. It came during a recent string of Mrazek outings in which he has given up at least a softie or two, and during a longer stretch of games in which his teammates seem bent on testing his skills by repeatedly giving up the puck in the defensive zone.
This Flyers team has been streaky all season, be it the several little sides or runs of three or four straight losses or wins, or the 10-game losing streak through November, or the run of 12 games without a regulation loss through February and into March … which promptly preceded this latest eight-game flop of 1-6-1 at a time when every game counts so much.
In the fresh sting of his post-game press conference Thursday night, Hakstol was his usual supportive self when it came to downplaying Mrazek’s poor play and the even lousier defensive mess in front of him.
But then the coach pivoted a bit when asked directly about Mrazek’s performance.
“Petr didn’t give up a bad goal tonight, but you look for a timely save from your goaltender,” Hakstol said. “That’s what we didn’t get in the first half of the game tonight. Like I said, I don’t think he let in a bad goal. When you look at all the goals, they’re (Grade) A chances. Yet somewhere along the way you need a timely save. On a night like this it’s a big momentum changer.”
When that coach comment was relayed to him, Mrazek readily agreed … if in a sly way.
“I think the fourth (Blue Jackets goal), the three on one,” Mrazek said. “If I would have made the big save we would have been there. You know, the game could be different. I didn’t have any big saves in the first period, I think they pushed us hard in the beginning and they scored three quick goals so if that fourth one I would stop, I would have probably gotten momentum back and we would still have a chance.”
Perhaps … but no doubt he managed to make clear the implication that he shouldn’t HAVE to stop any 3-on-1 fast breaks by the opposition, since strong playoff teams don’t allow such things as 3-on-1 breaks on their already overwrought goalie.
And yet, by not getting the save or 10 that he was looking for out of Mrazek, Hakstol’s mind seemed to be changed. First, he cryptically indicated that he’d take a day or maybe two to make up his mind about a starting goalie for the next game, Saturday night in Carolina.
By late Friday morning, his mind was made up.
Enter Young Alex. And let the comical goalie intrigue continue.
“Petr’s grabbed the ball at times in his career and played very well for long stretches,” Flyers general manager Ron Hextall, once a primary part of goalie intrigue here, said of Mrazek. “So I think it’s fair to say he can. But in saying that, we have some back to back games and with the amount of games we have this month it would be hard for any goalie to take the ball and run iwth it the whole way. We’ve talked about it, you need two goalies. That’s reality.”
Actually, the reality is that the Flyers are appointing their fourth goalie as go-to starter over the last four or five weeks.
Brian Elliott, who probably didn’t expect to get two-thirds of the Flyers’ starts for so much of the season, was the first goalie to go down, requiring core muscle surgery that may or may not have had anything to do with how much he had to be used. Either way, he’s missed a month and has started to lightly skate with his team.
Michal Neuvirth, injured goalie No. 2 in recent chronological order for the Flyers, but long a No. 1 when it comes to frequently injured goaltenders in the league, has been skating also and may be in line for a return in a week or so.
But all indications are such that Hextall has run out of patience with his frequently ailing would-be starter, should-be backup goalie.
Then there’s Mrazek, acquired for conditional picks from Detroit. He was expected to come in and become the solid starter in net while Lyon sat the bench while the injured guys healed.
If Mrazek performed well, the likelihood was that Elliott would be a backup upon his return while Lyon went back to the Phantoms and Neuvirth made a career out of being a healthy scratch … perhaps the only way he could stay healthy.
If Mrazek played five regular season games, the fourth-round conditional pick the Flyers would give up for him would turn into a third-rounder. If the Flyers made the conference finals and Mrazek won six playoff games, the third would become a second-rounder. If Mrazek then re-signed with the Flyers in the summer, another third-round pick would be added for 2019.
As of right now … the Flyers are still only on the hook for that one fourth-round conditional pick.
This despite Mrazek winning his first three Flyers games, including a 1-0 shutout in Montreal. He seemed well on his way to becoming the Flyers’ go-to goalie for the stretch drive, into the playoffs … and perhaps well beyond.
Then it all went awry.
Mrazek’s numbers have imploded while his team has gone streaking the wrong way. He is 4-5-1 with a 3.15 goals-against average and pitiful .887 saves percentage as a Flyer. It would require a fast turnaround by both him and his team for Hextall to consider re-signing him in the offseason.
It would take a quick change of Hakstol’s mind for Mrazek to even get the chance to play again, much less play well enough to get back in management’s good graces.
Then again, the way the Flyers have played in front of him lately, maybe Petr Mrazek would be better served to shop his services around elsewhere in the offseason.
As for the bright young guy from Yale and the two aching, breaking veteran goalies that Mrazek would leave behind … the comical intrigue continues.