Make no mistake, Michal Neuvirth is the Flyers backup goalie.
He knows it. His teammate know it. And his coach confirmed it.
However, his status as the No. 2 hasn’t prevented him from playing like he’s the No. 1.
Neuvirth overcame a shaky first period to make 29 saves as the Flyers beat the Hurricanes, 4-3, in overtime on Tuesday at the Wells Fargo Center. It was the third start in a row for the 27-year-old Czech netminder and fourth-straight game since relieving Steve Mason early in the second period against the Islanders last Tuesday.
Thebackupimproved to 8-4-2 with a league-leading .937 save percentage and 2.06 goals against average, which ranks tied for fifth in the NHL heading into Wednesday’s games. His three shutouts are tied for second in the league.
“You know I’ve said it a bunch of times already,” Neuvirth said following Tuesday’s game. “The more I play, the more confident I am up there.”
Mason, who has struggled with consistency, is 5-8-4 with a 2.93 GAA and .905 save percentage.
The former 2006 second-round draft pick of the Capitals, Neuvirth posted back-to-back shutouts in his first two games with the Flyers but has played his best hockey in the last three-plus games.
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He shut down the Islanders over the final two periods and in overtime to allow the Flyers to rally from a 3-1 deficit before falling in a shootout. From there he was phenomenal during a 4-2 win in St. Louis on Thursday and even better the next night in a 3-1 loss against Dallas, which is the highest-scoring team in the NHL.
“He’s done a good job. I don’t want to understate it or overstate it,” said Flyers coach Dave Hakstol, who stated earlier in the week Mason is still his No. 1 goalie. “I thought over the weekend against St. Louis and Dallas games, you could make an argument that he was our best player. Tonight (against the Hurricanes) he kind of fought through a bit of a tough start. But he battled hard when we needed it most, and he had a couple of real good saves so that gave us a chance to win it in overtime.”
Signed to a two-year, $3.25 million contract on July 1, Neuvirth has provided the team with a capable goalie on nights Mason needs a break or is out with an injury. He’s already been a major upgrade over Ray Emery, who served as Mason’s backup the previous two years.
And right now Hakstol is riding the hot the goalie, who has helped the Flyers gain five points in their last four games.
“He’s been great,” forward Sean Couturier said. “Every time he’s been put between the pipes he’s made key saves at key moments. He is giving us a chance to win every night.”