Remember all that talk about too many goaltenders in the Flyers camp?
When was that, like… a week ago?
Scheduled to play in last night's 3-2 exhibition loss to the Islanders at PPL Arena in Allentown, goaltender Michal Neuvirth pulled up lame amid a morning skate in Voorhees and — after trying some on-ice stretching and banging his stick on the top of the boards — left the ice early. He was scratched from his planned start and Flyers General Manager Ron Hextall indicated the injury would sideline him beyond that.
On Tuesday, Alex Lyon, who figured to be first goalie up should either Neuvirth or Brian Elliott be sidelined, pulled up lame prior to a scheduled appearance in that night's game against the Islanders in Brooklyn. Anthony Stolarz, who was supposed to share the goalie with him that night, played all 60 minutes of a 5-1 victory.
Lyon is projected to miss the next four weeks with what is believed to be a groin pull. The severity of Neuvirth's injury or the length of time he will miss is unknown, but given that both Elliott and Stolarz are also returning from major surgeries, the path to the NHL for Hart appears much less encumbered than it did even four days ago.
If you are keeping score, the three goaltenders left who have shown no injury issues thus far are in order of NHL experience: Elliott, Stolarz and the 20-year-old Carter Hart, last year's MVP in the WHL, and last night's starter. Hart stopped all nine shots he faced in just over 30 minutes of work. Stolarz allowed three goals on 10 shots, including Ryan Pulock's game-winner one minute into overtime.
Elliott has played just 20 minutes in the five preseason games the Flyers have played so far. He expressed displeasure with his play during practices on Wednesday and Friday as teammates scored repeatedly on him, and seems to be struggling to find the A game that powered the Flyers early spring surge last year, before he went down with the dreaded core muscle injury.
Stolarz, still just 24, had, until last night, played surprisingly well for a player coming off two consecutive meniscus tears in his left knee, injuries that cost him all of last season and the tail end of the previous one. Earlier in his career, Stolarz missed time after a skate slashed the back of his calf.
"Stolly's earned it,'' Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said prior to last night's game, referring to his efforts thus far this summer, not his sudden turn of fortune. "Stolly's played well and that's a credit to him. There's been a little bit of rust there. But he's done a pretty good job in working through that. The domino is that he's a guy who wasn't going to be in tonight who is now getting extra time. And (so) has an opportunity to go out and show more.''
Hart made perhaps his best save of the exhibition season when he turned aside Anthony Beauvilier's misdirect during an Islanders power play late in the first period. He too is getting a more extended look than planned, but Hakstol wasn't as keen about that spin of the wheel, nor was Hextall. The Flyers have been steadfast in their desire to have Hart, who turned 20 just five weeks ago, begin his season right here – site of his first NHL start, albeit an exhibition one.
"He's had a good solid camp until now,'' said Hakstol. "We see some areas where he needs to mature and improve. That's the same for any young player. But he's had a good camp up to now and that's a positive for him.''
Said Hextall, "You go with the guys you've got. You can't wait for somebody to come back from injury. We'll see what we have when the time comes."