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Confidence in the Crease

by Jay Greenberg / Philadelphia Flyers

Just once in 30 outings this season -- the second contest of the season in Florida -- the Flyers have not had goaltending that gave them a chance to win the game. Steve Mason, who started in that one, also got yanked last week against the Islanders after giving up three goals in 10 shots, but Michael Neuvirth didn’t let it get any worse for the Flyers, who came back to get a point.

One more time they could go about their business without fear that a next goal against would take them out of the game, which the bad business of six minor penalties aside, was how they almost got a point Saturday night, too. On a third game in four nights, in the den of the NHL’s best team, the Flyers carried the play in the third period and were one wide tip by Wayne Simmonds in the final five minutes from getting the Stars to overtime.

Neuvirth, so good in the victory at St, Louis that Dave Hakstol used the same goalie on consecutive nights for the first time all season, was sensational in Dallas. What the coach obviously figured his team would need under the circumstances. The shame of it, as Claude Giroux pointed out, was the Flyers still had legs after a tough win and a flight, and didn’t give themselves their best chance.

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The same case could be made for their other loss of the week, when the Flyers outplayed the Islanders as badly as they were outplayed by the Stars, only to miss the net five times in the overtime. A cap era which finds the Flyers three points out of a playoff spot and still having four teams to climb over to get there requires the maximum intelligence to win night after night, especially so for a team 29th in goals scored.

But with a 5-2-1 surge in their last seven games, with points in 10 of their last 14 games, the Flyers have put themselves in position to play meaningful games in April, a reasonable expectation coming into the season.

With the additions of Shayne Gostisbehere and Evgeny Medvedev, the skill is up on the back line and so is the energy on the second and third lines. You no longer have the luxury of making yourself a sandwich while waiting for Giroux’s next shift, nor the feeling that every goal the Flyers score will be their last of the game.

When Neuvirth didn’t get his skate against the post on Stefan Matteau’s bad angle goal early at the Meadowlands, or when Mason lost Frans Neilsen’s savable 35 footer that came out of Michel Del Zotto’s skates, the Flyers were unfazed, and it wasn’t only because their offensive confidence is rising. They played without fear of falling behind further.

It’s exhausting work worrying about the next one. And funny too, how the less energy a goalie appears to be expending in making saves, the more juice it gives a team.

The calm radiates outward from the crease and the empowerment rises off the ice and into the stands, where almost two decades of Flyer fans knowing in their hearts that the other team has a better goalie are over. It all helps keep the anxiety level down.

Neuvirth has the best save percentage (.939) in the league of any netminder who has played 15 games. Mason’s .905 lags in comparison, but his number is skewed by a couple of yankings.

Mason has two road wins, including a shutout of the Rangers, since this Flyer turnaround began; his .921 save percentage in four years as a Flyer would put him in the top 10 of goalies who have played 15 games this season; and the .939 he put up in the playoffs as the Flyers almost upset the Rangers two years ago hardly makes him yesterday’s goalie, just because a career backup – at least Neuvirth has been until this year -- has gotten hot.

What is old news is inferior Flyer goaltending.

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