Flyers goaltender Michal Neuvirth is out for the next three weeks, and the timing of his injury couldn’t be much worse as Philadelphia has four back-to-backs over their next 11 games. Philadelphia’s playoff aspirations will now hinge solely on the play of Steve Mason.
At different points throughout the season the Flyers have gone back and forth between netminders Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth, but Philadelphia will be without their safety net in goal for the rest of the regular season after Neuvirth went down with a lower-body injury.
The Flyers announced Sunday that Neuvirth, 27, will be out for the next three weeks with an unspecified ailment. Neuvirth stopped 24 of 26 shots in a March 16 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks and was again set to get the call against the Pittsburgh Penguins Saturday afternoon, but the reins were handed to Mason when Neuvirth told the training staff he wasn’t feeling right.
In Neuvirth’s place, Philadelphia has brought up Anthony Stolarz for the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms, but 22-year-old likely won’t see much action considering how tight the Eastern Conference wild-card race is right now, with the Flyers sitting only three points back of the Detroit Red Wings for the final spot and boasting two games in hand. That means the bulk of the responsibility from here on out is going to fall on Mason’s shoulders.
Having to roll with Mason is far from a worst-case scenario for the Flyers, of course. Mason has stumbled at times throughout the season, but over the past two months he has been every bit as good as Neuvirth and the Flyers were likely to rely on Mason for the bulk of the contests anyway.
Since Jan. 21, Mason has played 15 games and Neuvirth 12, but there’s a large gap in 5-on-5 save percentage between the two netminders. Mason has posted a .926 SP in more than 650 minutes of work at 5-on-5, while Neuvirth has posted a .915 SP in 525 minutes of action. At all strengths, the gap is the same, as Mason has posted a .916 SP in 880 minutes while Neuvirth has managed a .905 SP in 680 minutes. Mason likely gives the Flyers the best chance on a nightly basis, but there’s one big catch for Philadelphia: no Neuvirth means no second option in back-to-backs.
Back-to-backs are a concern for the Flyers primarily because of their 11 remaining games Philadelphia has four sets of back-to-backs, meaning Mason could be playing both halves of a back-to-back four times before the season is up. Stolarz could make a start, but only one of the games that falls on the second half of a back-to-back is against a basement opponent, and that’s April 7 against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Add to it that Stolarz has never seen NHL action before and it’s likely Mason gets all 11 games down the stretch.
The timing of Neuvirth’s injury couldn’t be much worse considering what the Flyers will face over the final three weeks of the season, but going with Mason would have been the right choice regardless of Neuvirth’s health. Now it’s up to Mason to get the Flyers into the post-season.
(All advanced stats via War-On-Ice)