EDMONTON, Alberta — Three weeks ago, Anthony Stolarz was stranded on an island of unwanted goalies — or so it seemed. The Flyers had Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth and then Cal Pickard. The Phantoms complemented Carter Hart with Alex Lyon, who had converted his opportunity due to injury into a two-year contract over the summer.
The Flyers' 6-foot-6 goaltender was a man in limbo, his injury history pushing him to the rear of organizational depth charts, while his lack of playing time impeding any chance to find his rescue.
“Three weeks ago, there was no body of work coming off last season and some of the things he’s gone through,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said in Calgary this week. “But even back then, we talked about his demeanor. He seems like he’s relishing the opportunity. First and foremost, he’s gone in and he’s battled for his teammates. Usually when a goaltender does that, he gets that in return from the guys in front of him.”
For 58 minutes and 52 seconds in Wednesday night’s gut-punching 6-5 loss to the Calgary Flames, Stolarz battled for his teammates, and his teammates battled right back. Except for an early flurry that netted nothing, the Flyers were handily outplayed by the Western Conference’s best team, their one-goal advantage entering the third period was a byproduct of goaltender Mike Smith’s off-night, more than their own pressure.
The Flyers scored four times on six shots in that period to chase Smith, foreboding their late demise by managing only one more shot following Dale Weise’s oh-what-the-heck flip from the blueline at 7:43 of the period that found its way past the Flames goaltender and gave the Flyers a 4-2 lead.
With that shot, they took six more after Weise’s goal, including Sean Couturier’s shorthanded breakaway goal that could have, and should have, iced the game if this was a team playing with any semblance of confidence. There are individuals who bring it most nights, but as a body, the Flyers are as dysfunctional as any team in the NHL right now.
Stolarz is an exception. It sounds strange to say that about a goaltender who just allowed six goals, but if you stayed up to watch Wednesday’s game, it makes perfect sense. Down by a goal heading into the final period, Calgary did what it has done best all season, pouring 16 pucks on goal, flooding the area around the net, drawing four penalties on the Flyers including an inexplicably dumb rabbit punch by Wayne Simmonds long after the whistle had blown and bodies had been separated.
The Flyers battled all right, but it was more like defending the Alamo. With two goals and an assist, Calgary’s Sean Bennett was the game’s first star. But he might have approached two hat tricks if Stolarz had not continually thwarted some of his juiciest chances.
“He stood on his head,” said Dale Weise, who deemed the rest of the team’s effort as “[bleeping] awful.”
"We were in our zone for 12 straight minutes there. Can’t blame him, he played great. Not one of those goals are on him."
That didn’t stop Stolarz from a pile of regret afterward. As players moved in and out of the dressing room, the 24-year-old sat with his pads still on his legs, staring straight ahead, occasionally burying his hands in his hair.
"Got to move forward," he said finally. "Still have two games left on this trip."
The Flyers play in Edmonton on Friday night, then in Vancouver on Saturday. On Thursday, Elliott returned to Philadelphia for a scheduled medical appointment and Neuvirth left the team to be with his wife for the birth of their child, replaced on the roster by Lyon. The man from the island of unwanted goalies will be in goal again Friday night, and perhaps Saturday as well.
“He’s a young guy in terms of games in the NHL,” said Hakstol. “And there’s a lot of things that he continues to work at. We don’t want to put too much on his plate that way. Just go out and continue to build his game. And most importantly, worry about the next save for your teammates.”