February 02, 2016
Goalie Michal Neuvirth, arguably the Philadelphia Flyers best player despite his limited action, will not be available for the next seven to 10 days with a lower body injury, general manager Ron Hextall told reporters Tuesday during the team's morning skate.
To fill his spot, the Flyers have recalled 22-year-old prospect Anthony Stolarz from the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
Neuvirth (11-6-2), who has played a backup role when starter Steve Mason's been healthy, leads the NHL with a .933 save percentage in his 19 starts this season. His 2.14 GAA ranks 9th in the league. Meanwhile, Mason hasn't been nearly as strong in net.
But that may not be his fault -- at least not entirely.
Here's what I wrote about the pair last week when grading the Flyers' season up to this point:
As you can see from their stats, Neuvirth has been the better goalie, statistically speaking. His 2.14 GAA is the 9th best in the league, but his .933 save percentage … well, that’s second to none. It does, however, seems like the Flyers play much better in front of him than they do when Mason is in net — and a lot of the scoring seems to come with his team down a man. In fact, nearly one-third of the goals (24 of 75) that Mason has allowed this season have come on a penalty kill. Neuvirth, on the other hand, has allowed just 11 power play goals this year, despite the fact that he’s seen four more shots in those situations (119 to 115).
It’s strange, the difference between the two in PK situations. Neuvirth’s .908 save percentage is third best in the NHL among the 29 goalies who have seen at least 100 shots when opponents have at least man advantage. Mason’s save percentage (.791) is dead last, and the next closest, Pekka Rinne, is 44 points better.
And then you isolate their even-strength numbers, there’s been almost no difference between the two. Neuvirth (.937) and Mason (.935) rank 8th and 9th, respectively, in the NHL among goalies who have seen at least 400 even-strength shots.
The grade the goalies received was an A-minus, second only to Hextall's A-plus. And the two go hand-in-hand.
One of the things the second-year GM did so well this offseason was to make sure the Flyers goalie situation was one that, at the very least, would not be problematic -- and had a chance to be among the best in the league. Another reason he needed to make sure there was depth in net is Mason's injury history. If – as he did in the week leading up to the All-Star break – Mason missed time with a minor injury, the Flyers would be more than capable of winning with their backup, Neuvirth, in net.
Mason is still nursing the lower-body injury that kept him out last week, but with Neuvirth now unavailable for at least seven days, Mason will likely be forced into action at less than 100 percent.
The question now becomes just how often Mason will be able to play in Neuvirth's absence. The Flyers play 35 games in 69 days to finish out the season, and in the time Neuvirth is scheduled to be out, they'll play at least five games – and maybe as many as six:
• Tuesday -- vs. Canadiens, 7 p.m.
• Feb. 4 -- at Predators, 8 p.m.
• Feb. 6 -- vs. Rangers, 1 p.m.
• Feb. 7 -- at Capitals, 12 p.m.
• Feb. 9 -- vs. Ducks, 7 p.m.
• Feb. 11 -- vs. Sabres, 7 p.m.
Based on the schedule, it's hard to imagine a scenario in which Stolarz, who represented Lehigh Valley over the weekend at the AHL All-Star Game, doesn't make at least one start. And that would likely be the case even if Mason wasn't still hurting.
After being recalled three times last season but failing to see any action, Stolarz will likely make his NHL debut over the weekend, either at home against the Rangers or in D.C. against the first-place Capitals. Neither will likely be an easy task.
The former 2012 second-round pick has been playing well, however. His Phantoms have won five straight and Stolarz has won each of his last three starts. In 29 appearances this season, the 6-foot-6 goalie is 15-10-3 with a 2.45 GAA and .915 save percentage.
He will be available for Tuesday night's game against Montreal and, according to the team, will wear No. 65.