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January 07, 2017

In return, Neuvirth offers reminder of why he's so valuable to Flyers

Flyers NHL

Steve Mason played extremely well in net during the Flyers' 10-game win streak earlier this season. In his eight games since, however, he's gone just 1-5-2, including five straight losses before giving way to Michal Neuvirth on Saturday. 

But that record isn't entirely his fault. In his eight starts during last month's streak, Mason allowed 19 goals (2.38 GAA) and posted a .926 save percentage. In those last eight starts? He's allowed 20 goals (2.5 GAA) and has a lower, but not terrible, .896 save pct.

We've previously written about how Mason seems to play better when he's starting on a more regular basis, but after starting nine straight games and 13 out of the last 14 for the Flyers, it was becoming increasingly clear that the 28-year-old goalie needed a day off.

Luckily, that came just in time for Neuvirth's return from a nearly two-month-long absence while he recovered from a knee injury he suffered back on Nov. 12. And while that injury was perhaps the catalyst to Mason's hot streak, it was also the main recent for his recent struggles.

With the Flyers looking to snap a five-game skid that has pushed them to within two points of falling out of playoff position, Neuvirth reminded everyone why a proven backup goalie is so important. He stopped 24 of 26 Tampa Bay shots as the Flyers rode a four-goal second period to a 4-2 win at the Wells Fargo Center. 

More importantly, he stopped the bleeding -- metaphorically, of course.

“Very big," Neuvirth said of the win. "I thought it was a great team effort for sixty minutes, we didn’t give them much. They pushed back in the third, but our PK was big at the end, 6 on 5, that was big too.”

Neuvirth didn't see much action in the first two periods but kept the Lightning in check long enough to allow his teammates to blow the game wide open. Perhaps it was a nice way to ease him back into action, because when he was tested late, he made all the save necessary to preserve the slump-busting win.

"Solid," coach Dave Hakstol said when asked to asses Neuvirth's performance in his first game back. "That’s a long layoff. I didn’t count the days but it was about six or seven weeks. And that’s a long time to be out of game action. I thought he was solid -- had a good solid performance throughout. I thought he looked settled and did a good job for us."

With Mason desperately in need of a night off, it's nice for the Flyers to again have a seasoned backup -- especially if they have their sights set on making a playoff run.

“It is great [to have Neuvirth back]," said Jake Voracek, who notched a pair of assists in the win. "It was big for Neuvy with his first game back and make a couple huge stops, and get a win. We are going to have a tough one tomorrow. It is the best team in the league. We have to make sure we are going because it is going to be a hard game.”

He's not kidding about it being a tough game. 

The Flyers are set to face Mason's former team, the Blue Jackets, on Sunday, and after an extra day of rest on Saturday, the starter will resume his role in Columbus. After falling to the Rangers on Saturday, the first-place Blue Jackets have lost two straight. Prior to that, however, they had won 16 straight.

Now, thanks to their win on Saturday, it will be the Flyers coming in with some momentum. 

"No I didn’t go in [the locker room] with the guys as a group, but just seeing guys in and around after, it’s nice to win a hockey game and it’s been a while since we’ve had that feeling," Hakstol said of the team's overall mood after snapping their five-game skid. "[It] doesn’t matter how well you’ve played in a couple of games along the way. It’s important to get the two points, it’s important to do it the right way."

But with Columbus now looking to stop a losing streak of its own, Hakstol wants to make sure his guys stay focused on the task in front of them. 

"It’s the first of two competitive games we have this weekend," he added. "It’s time to turn the page and get ready for tomorrow night at six o’clock."

Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin