David Quackenbos The Hockey Writers
Flyers Goaltending Becoming An Organizational Strength
For much of the last two decades, the Philadelphia Flyers have been notorious for their issues at the goaltending position. Although they rarely had terrible goaltenders, they were constantly plagued with average goaltending. It was always good enough to keep the team afloat and some goalies, like Roman Chechmanek and Ilya Bryzgalov, would occasionally have impressive runs. But as a whole, the Flyers developed a reputation as a team that was unsteady between the pipes.
Now, at the end of 2015, goaltending is becoming one of the organizations strengths. With Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth at the NHL level and Anthony Stolarz having a great season in the AHL, the Flyers professional goalie situation is the best that it has been in years. Prospects like Felix Sandstrom, Merrick Madsen, and Ivan Fedotov have also had impressive starts to the 2015-16 season and provide great hope for the future.
The Flyers expected Steve Mason to be good this season. But their improvements at all levels of the organization have been the most encouraging.
The Flyers signed Neuvirth this summer to a two year, $3.25 million contract to replace Ray Emery. Neuvirth was expected to be a decent back up and to let Steve Mason rest every now and then. Instead, Neuvirth has pushed Mason and earned himself quite a few starts in the process.
Prior to this season, Neuvirth career average save percentage was .912. That number is not good enough to be a regular starter in the NHL, but it is very good for potential back up goalies. This season, Neuvirth has a .937 save percentage, which is the best in the NHL. He also has three shutouts and an 8-4-2 record.
As Steve Mason struggled early in the season, Neuvirth picked up the slack and kept the Flyers competitive. Now that Mason seems to have found his game, the Flyers have one of the best goaltending tandems in the league.
The Flyers selected Stolarz in the second round of the 2012 NHL Draft. He has been recalled to the Flyers multiple times over the past two seasons, but has not yet tasted the NHL.
His rookie season in Lehigh Valley was decent. He posted a 9-13-4 record and a .905 save percentage while learning the professional game. For a 20/21 year old rookie goaltender, those were not terrible numbers. However, after his dominance at the junior level, many fans were expecting more from the 6’6″, 220 pound goalie.
This season, Stolarz has taken the starting job and ran with it. Currently, Stolarz has a 12-6-1 record and a .924 save percentage. He has struggled in his last few starts despite going 3-1-0. He has a combined save percentage of .842 in those games and has allowed four goals in three straight games.
However, even withstanding his recent rough stretch, Stolarz is finding ways to win games and has kept his save percentage above .920. For a 21 year old professional goalie with his athletic tools, there is a lot to be encouraged about.
The Flyers third round pick of the 2015 NHL Draft looks to have been a steal. Sandstrom, who missed much of his draft eligible season due to a bout with mononucleosis, has been playing very well in Sweden.
At only 18 years old he is playing in the Swedish Hockey League against grown, professional men. He has a 6-4-1 record in 11 appearances and a .905 save percentage. He has split time with SHL veteran Bernhard Starkbaum and has held his own in the men’s leaque.
As it stands right now, Sandstrom has been invited to the Swedish World Junior camp and is competing for a spot at the World Junior Championships. He is competing against New York Islanders prospect Linus Soderstrom and Arizona Coyotes prospect Erik Kallgren. Both goalies are older than Sandstrom, but neither goalie is playing regularly in the SHL this season.
Although it is not a given that he will make the team, he is the only goalie at the Swedish camp to be regularly playing against the best players in the country. All in all, 2015-16 has been an encouraging year for Sandstrom.
The Flyers selected Madsen in the 6th round of the 2013 NHL Draft. After a decent 2013-14 season, Madsen joined Harvard in 2014-15. He barely got to play last year and was written off by most of the fan base, myself included.
However, he has been excellent to begin the 2015-16 season. Through seven games he has allowed seven goals. He has a record of 5-0-2, a save percentage of .966, and has earned four shutouts.
Madsen is 6’5″ and is still just 20 years old. His game has plenty of time to mature and he has two more years, after this one, of college eligibility left. There will inevitably be bumps in the road, but if he can continue his positive trajectory, he will truly be a force by the time he is ready to turn pro.
With General Manager Ron Hextall at the helm, there is little doubt that the Flyers are headed in the right direction. Among other things, one of the most encouraging things about his reign has been the patience he has been willing to show with the organizations prospects. Because goaltenders need the most time to develop, this improved goalie group should only get better as the years go by.
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