Dave Hakstol said it again Thursday night.
“We trust Alex,’’ he said after Alex Lyon’s 18 saves in relief of Petr Mrazek enabled a valiant but ultimately futile Flyers comeback try in a 5-3 loss to Columbus.
Well, prove it.
Not occasionally. Right now, as your first option in a season that seems to be slipping away. He should start whichever of this weekend’s games you deem more important, and he should step in front of Petr Mrazek’s Detroit homecoming and start Tuesday, too.
Until Brian Elliott says he is ready, and not a moment sooner, he should be the goaltender Hakstol trusts, because he has done everything to earn that trust, everything you could ask a lightly regarded minor-league call-up to do.
And much, much more.
Lyon stepped into an emergency at Madison Square Garden and rescued a sloppy game there, extending an unbeaten streak that was running on fumes. Two nights later he saved a listless effort against Montreal. Just last week, after Mrazek had again been less that stellar in a 5-2 home loss to the Penguins, Lyon would have been one of three stars the following night in Boston if his heavy-legged teammates could have given him just 22 more seconds of upper-body work.
He stepped into his latest mess Thursday night, his team trailing, 4-2, just 3 minutes, 23 seconds into the second period, after four of Columbus’s first 10 shots found the net behind Mrazek.
“Petr didn’t give up a bad goal tonight,’’ said Hakstol. “But you look for that timely save from your goaltender. And that’s what we didn’t get from Petr over the first half of this game. On a night like this, it’s a big momentum changer.’’
Lyon stopped all 18 shots he faced. Some were routine, some were not. Hakstol estimated that three or four were of the timely variety. But what was really telling was how locked in Lyon was from the moment he went in. Late in the second period, during a Blue Jackets power play, he made a total of six saves in rapid succession, stoning Artemi Panarin, somehow getting a pad on Thomas Vanek’s deflection. Later in the game, as Vanek tried to swoop across the top of his crease with the puck, Lyon flicked it off the sideboards with his stick.
Vanek pounded his stick on the ice in frustration.
“It’s part of the gig of a backup goalie,’’ Lyon said. “I never know when my opportunity is going to be, so I just want to make sure I’m sharp no matter what. I was seeing things well. I just couldn’t control a rebound to save my life. But you know what? Sometimes you just have to adjust to that and battle.’’
He did. And the Flyers, who again couldn’t get out of their own way at times in this game, found their battle, too. It’s what makes Elliott a No.1, that battle. Some goalies are just puck stoppers. Some goalies are hockey players.
Momentum changed when Lyon entered the game. The Flyers got a goal on an Andrew MacDonald slap shot with just under eight minutes left in the second period to pull within a goal, and outshot Columbus, 14-7, in the final period as they sought vainly for the equalizer.
Lyon’s a hockey player, and if Elliott’s injury has proven nothing else, it is that this team needs that characteristic in its net. The Flyers have lived and died on momentum this season, and right now, with seven losses over their last eight games, they are in desperate need of the kind of shot in the arm Columbus received when it added Mark Letestu, Vanek, and Ian Cole around the trade deadline.
With Elliott not expected to return until the final week, Lyon is their best chance at that.
He was asked Thursday night if he thought his coach might believe that a little more than he did after what he just saw.
“I’m typically a very analytical, read-into-things kind of guy,’’ he said. “I just have worked so hard not to [be] in my professional relationships. I’ve said it a million times, but the second you start letting things like that creep in, that’s when things go south.
“There’s just a lot of things that go on when money comes into play. I learned a lot of really valuable lessons my first year. And it’s been a real challenge this year, with all this, trying to stay even up.’’
He’s done that. The kid played like a steady-handed pro again Thursday night.
It’s time he should be viewed as one.