He faced 53 shots over the Flyers’ last two games and stopped 50. This is a save percentage of .943, which if it continued would have Alex Lyon perched above the NHL’s most elite goalies, guys such as the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist and the Canadiens’ Carey Price, goalies who have led their native lands to international glory and become the most identifiable players on their franchises.
It will not continue, though, not unless the Flyers’ lack of luck with goalies and injuries continues. Down three and counting – lest we forget the rehabbing Anthony Stolarz — the Flyers traded a pair of draft picks for yet another would-be No. 1 goaltender on Monday. And they are not about to have Petr Mrazek watch from the bench while a goalie they got for close to nothing a couple of years ago juts out his pad to stop one shot or snares another laser headed to the upper corner with his glove, as he did repeatedly in Tuesday’s 3-2 overtime victory over Montreal.
“No. 1, I think it’s important that we have Petr joining us in our locker room,’’ coach Dave Hakstol said when asked about Lyon after the latest victory. “I know our players are excited about that. I know Alex is excited about that.’’
Well … excited is probably not the best word. Challenged? Determined? A little miffed, even? Those might work better.
“I think one thing that’s really been advantageous for me: I’ve always been on the cusp of a lot of things,’’ Lyon was saying. “In high school, there’s this really important league called the Elite League in Minnesota. It showcases you to a lot of colleges. I didn’t make that, but I was really close.’’
He went to play juniors in the United States Hockey League instead. He played well. He maxed out his juniors eligibility, and Yale coach Keith Allain, who had played briefly there with Lyon’s father back in the late 1970s, said, what the heck?
“I got to college,’’ Lyon said. “I came in with a chip on my shoulder. I didn’t get drafted. But I was a bubble guy for two years. So I was still hungry. I signed here as a free agent, and like all free agents, I had a chip on my shoulder. So I think that circumstance plays into it a little bit. All you need is a sniff. Like in college, if I had been a mediocre goalie, I probably would be working on Wall Street right now. But you get the taste and it’s like, `I can do this.’ Exactly what happened when I got the win against the Rangers. I got the taste. Now I know I can do it.’’
The Flyers? Not so sure.
“In terms of a little bit of growth that we’re seeing in Alex, that’s really important as well,’’ Hakstol said after Tuesday’s win. “We’re going to need contributions from everywhere, everybody in our lineup. He did his job tonight. This time of year, nothing more, nothing less. You have got to go out and do the job.”
A little Bill Belichick cold? Well, consider that besides the three injured goalies who have opened his opportunity, the Flyers have used three high draft picks on goaltenders over the last few years. Carter Hart, 19, the 2016 second-round pick who backstopped Canada’s recent World Junior Championship, owns a 1.56 goals-against average and .951 save percentage for the Everett Silvertips and recently tied the WHL career shutout record of 26. Felix Sandstrom, the 21-year-old Swede who impressed during training camp, has battled injury all season. Kirill Ustimenko, a 2017 third-round pick, is 19 with good numbers this season in Russia’s junior league.
And then there is Lyon, who at 25 is just one year younger than Mrazek. Mrazek has started more than 50 NHL games in each of the last two seasons, and 166 overall. Mrazek became available, at least in part, because of doubt over his work ethic and sustainability.
Lyon is here, in this role, because of his work ethic and sustainability. In Columbus, when he was still Neuvirth’s backup and wasn’t expected to start, he remained on the ice until the last player, Travis Konecny, had put in his shootout work, the two men still discussing ways to beat a goaltender as they entered the dressing room.
He will be Mrazek’s backup when the Flyers face Columbus here Thursday night, and likely will be the backup for many of the remaining 22 games and — dare we say it – playoffs. It’s an adjustment in how to practice, how to prepare — really a completely different mind-set from the intense approach that has already enabled him to buck the odds at every level.
“I just keep hanging around,’’ he joked, with a smile of self-reliance.
“I think problems start occurring when you get too far ahead of yourself. Whether it’s contracts or games or `When am I going to be put in?’ It’s the worst thing you can do. I just try to enjoy practice, enjoy helping the team out. I feel my game is in a really good spot right now.’’