For the first time since he was sidelined with a lower-body injury last week, Michal Neuvirth practiced with the Flyers this morning at the team’s practice facility in Voorhees. Prior to going down, Neuvirth played in 21 games, earning a league-best .933 save percentage and top-10 GAA along the way.
With Neuvirth out, Steve Mason has started five games over the last eight days. Head coach Dave Hakstol said that even with the heavy schedule, he believes Mason is ready to start Thursday if needed.
“I don’t see fatigue in him,” Hakstol said. “I really don’t. Not any more so than anybody in this locker room.”
Over his last five starts, Mason has maintained a .914 save percentage and performed well against the high-powered offenses of the Capitals and the Rangers. Last week, the Flyers recalled Anthony Stolarz from Lehigh Valley to back up Mason in Neuvirth’s absence, and Hakstol said he wouldn’t rule out giving Stolarz the start against Buffalo on Thursday.
“There is a possibility,” said Hakstol when asked if Stolarz might get the nod. “I think we all probably want to get back at it and I’m sure that’s inclusive of our goaltenders all the way through our lineup.”
Neuvirth didn’t give a timetable for his return this morning, but Hakstol seemed confident in the Flyers’ depth at goaltender regardless.
A BIG ABSENCE
One of the Flyers’ biggest points of adversity this year has been the absence of Sean Couturier, who has been in and out of the lineup over the past month with a recurring lower-body injury. The Flyers have won only two games of the 12 that Couturier has missed this season. Couturier’s teammates say this is a chance for others in the lineup to step in and fill his role, especially on offense.
“Obviously it’s a huge blow to our lineup,” Mark Striet said of losing Couturier. “There’s opportunities for other players to step in and step up and I thought the guys that are playing [in his place] are doing a really good job. And then, as a whole team, everybody just needs to push a little bit harder.”
Flyers columnist Jay Greenberg lists six ways the Flyers can turn things around without Couturier in the lineup HERE…
In an effort to spark more secondary scoring to make up for Couturier’s absence, the Flyers called up Nick Cousins to center the second line. Cousins leads the Phantoms in scoring this year with 22 goals and 34 assists in 64 games with the club. As a Flyer, he earned his first NHL point in a losing effort in Washington on Sunday, assisting on Michael Del Zotto’s first-period goal.
Tomorrow’s contest against Buffalo will be the Flyers’ sixth game in 10 days and their second game in a three-game, five-day homestand. The team will not have more than two days off between games until March 8.
With a number of important games ahead, the team is hoping to strike a balance between rest and preparation.
“You’ve got to take care of yourself, you’ve got to take care of the body,” Shayne Gostisbehere said. “You only have a couple days off here and there, and you’ve got to take advantage of them. When we do get to practice, we’ve got to be crisp, we’ve got to be sharp, and it’ll lead right into the games.”
Hakstol also acknowledged the impact of such a tight schedule, saying that managing the fatigue is both a mental and physical task.
“This time of year, it’s a busy schedule, so I don’t know how many people have the luxury of being 100 percent healthy or feeling physically 100 percent energized,” he said. “This time of year, everybody’s got to get themselves ready and prepared and go out and do the job.”