Philadelphia Flyers’ GM Ron Hextall announced today that goaltender Michal Neuvirth has been activated from the injured reserve. In a corresponding move, his replacement, Anthony Stolarz, has been returned to the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Neuvirth has been out since mid-November with a knee injury, but has been deemed healthy enough to return to NHL action.
The move is likely bittersweet for the Flyers and their fans. While Neuvirth is likely the superior goalie to Stolarz and, for stretches of time, has been better than starter Steve Mason over the past two seasons, Philadelphia has seen anything but struggles since Neuvirth went on IR. The Flyers are 13-7-3 since Neuvirth’s injury, including winning ten straight in the first half of December. Admittedly, one win in their last seven games has not been as impressive, but the team overall has improved. Much of this success has occurred in net as well. The Flyers were the worst team in the league in goals against average before Neuvirth’s injury, but rose to nearly 20th before this recent bad stretch, during which they’ve fallen back down into a tie for 27th. Mason has improved on his poor start, sporting a .904 SV% and 2.78 GAA which, believe it or not, are much better than his early numbers. In relief, Stolarz has been excellent. He has a .938 Sv% and 1.79 GAA in four appearances for the Flyers. As he heads back to the minors, Hextall and company have to feel confident that they have found a solid future pro in Stolarz.
However, it would be a stretch to assume that Stolarz would continue to outplay a healthy Neuvirth for the remainder of the season. Despite a dismal (read: awful) .859 SV% and 3.54 GAA in nine games so far in 2016-17, Neuvirth is good NHL goalie. Although he has bounced around to several organizations, overall Neuvirth has provided reliable production along the way. He has a career save percentage of .912 and goals against average of 2.69, but his numbers have improved each year since his early days with the Washington Capitals. Perhaps the highlight of his nine-year pro career was his 2015-16 season in Philadelphia, during which he again split time with a streaky Mason and posted career highs with a .924 SV% and 2.27 GAA in 32 games. Though he was out with injury, Neuvirth has had time to refocus mentally and a rejuvenated performance in the second half of the year would not be a surprise. Neuvirth may not be the future in net for the Flyers, but he is a free agent at the end of the year and will be working for a job nonetheless.