TORONTO — In the Flyers' most embarrassing loss of the season, a 6-0 wipeout Saturday night in Toronto, they may have stumbled into some much-needed good fortune:
Goaltender Anthony Stolarz played two-plus periods and showed the promise that caused the Flyers to protect him in last year's expansion draft.
Stolarz, a New Jersey native recalled from the AHL's Phantoms because of an injury to Alex Lyon, stopped 32-of-34 shots in relief of Cal Pickard (four goals on six shots), who struggled but was betrayed by his defense.
Stolarz, 24, denied a handful of breakaways and several odd-man rushes. For a goalie who had started just one game with the Phantoms this season, he was surprisingly sharp and didn't show any rust.
"I felt a little shaky at the start; my legs were wobbling," the 6-foot-6, 210-pound Stolarz admitted. "It's been over a year and a quarter since I last played at this level and I played one game in the last six weeks. So for me, I've just been making the most of my practice time and waiting for an opportunity like this."
Stolarz, selected in the second round of the 2012 draft, called it a step in the right direction.
"I'm just going to keep working. There are still some things I can tidy up. At the end of the day, though, I was very happy with my performance."
The Flyers' goaltending is in shambles — and, in hindsight, probably makes general manager Ron Hextall regret not adding a free agent like Carter Hutton. The Flyers entered the season knowing veterans Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth were risks because they had hip surgeries in the offseason. Hextall rolled the dice. But both goalies got reinjured. So did Lyon, who was their No. 3 goalie last season.
That has left the inexperienced duo of Pickard and Stolarz as the goaltenders.
The Flyers' five goalies have the NHL's worst save percentage (.880) and the 29th-worst goals-against average (3.54).
The goalies' struggles have been magnified because their teammates have been woefully inconsistent, especially in the defensive end.
"There were some pretty critical breakdowns on some of the goals," said left winger James van Riemsdyk, a former Maple Leaf who made an emotional return Saturday and played his first game in Toronto since signing with the Flyers in the summer. "…. We have some things in front of [the goalies] we can clean up, for sure."
The often-injured Neuvirth will practice with the team Monday. Even if he's ready to play Tuesday against visiting Ottawa (9-11-3), the Flyers (10-11-2) will probably go with Stolarz to see if he is all the way back from two knee surgeries that limited him to just four minor-league games in 2017-18. This season, he was the Phantoms' third goalie, usually behind Carter Hart and Lyon, and rarely used.
"It was obviously tough." said Stolarz, who was impressive in a seven-game stint (2.07 GAA, .928 save percentage) with the Flyers in 2016-17. "There's three guys and every single one of us wants to get the net. That's the importance of practice and and making every rep count. And [goalie development coach] Brady Robinson has done a great job down there of keeping me focused and making sure I'm doing the right thing, so when the opportunity comes, I'm ready."
In an Twitter poll that asked followers what the Flyers should do to get out of their funk, nearly 4,000 (and counting) responded — 77 percent said they should change coaches, 16 percent said they should make a major trade, 4 percent said they should ride it out until their injured goalies return, and 3 percent said they should promote some Phantoms.