“I got no fight with any man who does what he’s told, but when he don’t the machine breaks down. And when the machine breaks down, we break down.” Sgt. Barnes, Platoon, 1986. This rings true to the situation the Flyers have in net, and just so happens to explain it as well. It’s a platoon system. There’s no number one or number two goalie. It’s a 1A/1B type system. A platoon. When one goalie isn’t pulling his weight, the other goalie likely struggles due to the work load. This applies to both netminders the Flyers have on their roster.
When asked to carry the workload last year in Calgary, Brian Elliot had close to, if not his worst season of his career. He was 26-18-3, which isn’t terrible, but also had a .910 save percentage and a 2.55 goals against average. Now, these numbers really aren’t terrible, but he is a career .913 save percentage guy. I know what you’re going to say, “It’s only .003 difference.” But think of it like this: The year before in St. Louis, Elliott posted a .930 save percentage. Yup, pretty drastic difference.
Now, with Michael Neuvirth, it’s a little harder to tell if he will be able to live up to his end of the bargain. In his first year with the Flyers, Neuvirth was absolutely stellar, especially when coming in relief of Mason. He was 18-8-4 with a .924 save percentage, and a 2.27 goals against average. It was his best year to date, especially considering the atrocious defense that was in front of him. This past year, however, Neuvy didn’t bode so well. He posted a pedestrian .891 save percentage with a 2.82 goals against. Both years, Neuvy and recently departed Steve Mason did a pretty good job of splitting the work load, also allowing time for Lehigh Valley call up Anthony Stolarz to make his debut and build a pretty nice pro resume.
These two have specialized in working as a unit and never becoming the bonafide number one guy in a system. Elliott and Jaroslav Halak worked so well together back in the 2011-12 season that saw Elliott post his best numbers to date (.940 save percentage, 1.56 goals against average). Then, in 2015-16, Jake Allen and Elliott combined to create one of the most fearsome tandems in net that year, with Elliott holding up his end of the bargain with 23 wins, a .930 save percentage and a 2.07 goals against average. Neuvirth had his best year in the league during the 2015-16 season in Philadelphia, where he and Mason teetered back and forth between who was the starter and who was the backup. Neuvy posted a .924 save percentage and a 2.27 goals against average, both career highs.
Is this the answer to the goaltending question that has hovered over the Flyers like a dark cloud about to burst with rain? The short answer, nope. Not even close. You see, these two, at their best, could be worthy of the Jennings trophy. If you combine these two’s best years, the record would be 41-18-8, averaging a .932 save percentage and a 1.92 goals against. That’s one hell of a year no matter how you look at it. However, even if these two do pull it off and have a year for the ages in Flyers history, it still won’t be enough to stave off the master plan of GM Ron Hextall.
You see, there are multiple prospects just sitting, waiting for their opportunity with the big team. Anthony Stolarz has been to the show, and in my opinion, proven that he has what it takes to compete with the big boys. Felix Sandstrom and Carter Hart are not very far off either, which means that if two more years pass and all aforementioned goalies are still present with the club, there could be one heck of a competition to see who gets the nod up with the Flyers and who gets sent back down to the Phantoms.
There is no doubt that Hextall has given himself a potential luxury with the signing of Elliott. If he works out, it buys him another year or so to keep the youngsters down in the minors and gain more experience before throwing them to the wolves. If it doesn’t work out, Stolarz is waiting in the wings to take over until confidence is regained or someone (cough, Neuvirth, cough) is back from injury.
Overall, the Flyers are in a pretty decent spot when you take the time to think about it. Brian Elliott is coming off of a bad year in Calgary and is looking to regain his 11-12, even 15-16 form. Neuvirth was given the vote of confidence when Hextall decided to extend his contract last season and not Steve Mason’s, and is coming off what should be viewed as an embarrassing year in net. If he can regain his form circa 15-16, the Flyers net should be set for the year and they should be able to contend in a very tough metropolitan division.
If neither goalie proves his worth and reverts back to their less than stellar years they experienced last season, it could be a long year for the orange and black. Regardless if Nolan Patrick absolutey lights it up alongside fellow rookie Oskar Lindblom. Even if Robert Hagg and Samuel Moring make their long awaited debuts and absolutely kill it on the blue line. If the Flyers cannot sustain success in the crease, they will not be able to compete with their fellow division rivals. Plain and simple.
Personally, as mentioned in previous podcasts and articles, I was a big believer in Anthony Stolarz deserving the backup position to Neuvy. Elliott was a good signing, however, extending Neuvy was not. They made a good signing, I should say, they just decided to sign the wrong goalie. Mason deserved that extension more than Neuvirth, but that’s a topic for another time. I’ll leave you the way I greeted you, with a quote from Platoon that will sum up how I feel about the platoon in net. Doc says, “This is bad, man. I’ve got bad vibes here.”
Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports