This has not been the best of seasons for Michal Neuvirth. Injuries and Brian Elliott’s steady play have kept the 29-year-old goaltender in the background.
That appears to be changing.
Neuvirth has had strong performances in each of his last two starts, and he is expected to be in net during Saturday’s matinee against visiting New Jersey.
He has made just 10 starts this season.
“It’s been tough, but it is what it is,” Neuvirth said after Friday’s practice in Voorhees. “My mind-set is to stay positive and focus on the things I can control and give my best everyday on the ice.”
He has been outstanding in his last two starts, including Thursday’s 3-2 overtime win over Toronto. He made 29 saves against the Leafs, none bigger than a sprawling stop on Patrick Marleau with a little less than three minutes left in regulation, or denying Auston Matthews from close range 10 seconds into overtime.
Based on Friday’s practice, Saturday will mark the first time since Nov. 2-4 that he has made consecutive starts.
“Obviously, it was big,” he said about the win over Toronto, “but (Saturday) is a new day. I’ve got to be ready. It’s a big game and New Jersey is playing really good this year.”
Before Thursday, Elliott, known as “Moose” to his teammates and coaches, had started 18 of the previous 19 games.
Elliott’s workload should decrease in the season’s second half, coach Dave Hakstol said.
“Considering Moose went on a run there – through injuries and other things, I think he started 25 (actually, 26) out of 30 games – that’s a real heavy workload,” said Hakstol, whose squad will face a New Jersey team Saturday that is looking for revenge for a 5-3 loss a week ago. “I would expect the workload to be more spread out than that” in the last two-plus months.
Hakstol noted that things can change quickly “in terms of health and everything else. But we have two guys who have really been good for us. We’ll find the best rhythm to have both of them be able to help our team.”
Elliott is 17-11-7 with a 2.84 goals-against average and .906 save percentage, while Neuvirth is 4-5-1 with a 2.35 GAA and .924 save percentage.
Elliott didn’t get much help in front of him in his last start, a 5-1 loss Tuesday to the New York Rangers in Madison Square Garden. Neuvirth steadied the team in Thursday’s bounce-back victory over the Maple Leafs.
“You know what, you need two goalies,” general manager Ron Hextall said. “I don’t care who you are. Look around the league. I’ve said it before: There’s no Marty Brodeurs. You need two guys. I look at (Thursday), and Neuvy picked up Ells, which is great. Ells has done a great job. It was Neuvy’s turn to go in and help us win a game and he did. Hopefully, Neuvy can stay on it.”
Rookie defenseman Travis Sanheim, 21, has been a healthy scratch in seven of the last eight games. “Obviously, I don’t like him sitting, and the coaches don’t like him sitting, and I’m sure he doesn’t like sitting, either,” Hextall said. “Something will break here at some point.” Asked if Sanheim may soon be sent to the Phantoms, Hextall said: “We’re going to let that play out. He’s going to be playing hockey in the near future at some point. I’m assuming here, but I don’t have the answer for you.” … Flyers prospect Wade Allison (15 goals, 15 assists in 22 games), a dominating winger, will miss the rest of Western Michigan University’s season with an undisclosed injury. Hextall said he doesn’t believe it’s a long-term setback. … Hextall didn’t rule out the possibility of goalie Anthony Stolarz (knee) playing for the Phantoms this season, but he has not returned to the ice yet. … The GM doesn’t expect to be busy near the Feb. 26 trade deadline “unless it was a nice upgrade at a reasonable price.” Good luck with that.