Back in the day, the Philadelphia Flyers had two of the greatest goaltenders in the history of the NHL, Bernie Parent and Ron Hextall. They combined to play 975 games and were emblematic of the tough and gritty teams they led during their careers.
The Flyers haven’t been as fortunate lately. Goalies have passed through their turnstiles at a rapid pace the last few years. And the Flyers have struggled to reclaim their position among the league’s elite.
They haven’t won the Stanley Cup since taking their second in a row in 1975 when Parent ran the joint. The Flyers have lost in the Stanley Cup finals six times since.
Still, nothing can compare to what’s happened this season in the city of Brotherly Glove. The Flyers have set an NHL record by using eight different goalies and there’s still a month to go in the season.
Cam Talbot became the eighth a few days ago when the Flyers played at New Jersey. The veteran had been acquired from the Edmonton Oilers in mid-February for goalie Anthony Stolarz. And Talbot made an immediate impression by making 30 saves to lead the Flyers to a 6-3 win.
“He was solid, it’s been a few days since his last game but he looked good in there for us and gave us a chance to win so that’s all you could ask for from your goalie,” said Flyers forward James van Riemsdyk.
At this point, the Flyers will settle for solid. They don’t want to get too greedy.
So let’s count the Flyers goalies this season: Brian Elliott, Carter Hart, Michal Neuvirth, Calvin Pickard, Alex Lyon, Mike McKenna, Stolarz and now Talbot.
McKenna, now 35, became the seventh in just the team’s first 43 games. He had just been claimed off waivers from the Vancouver after Neuvirth went down.
More than anyone involved, McKenna symbolizes the depths the Flyers have had dive just to get through the season. McKenna had been with the Canucks for just two days after being acquired in a trade from Ottawa. He has also played for the Tampa Bay Lightning, New Jersey Devils, Columbus Blue Jackets, Arizona Coyotes and Dallas Stars.
“I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say it was a little bit of a challenge just from a lot of different logistical standpoints, but my job is to play hockey and be a goaltender and stop the puck and no matter what team I’m on I’m going to do that to the best of my ability,” McKenna said. “At the end of the day, we’re all trying to do the same thing and that’s win hockey games regardless of who we’re playing against. The NHL is a challenge no matter what. Every team has players that can do this, so you’ve got to bring your A game.”
This hasn’t happened because the Flyers are indecisive. It’s happening because their goalies have been injured, accounting for 107 missed games. Elliott has missed 33, Neuvirth 22 and Stolarz was out for 16 before he was dealt.
When McKenna lost his first start, the team had lost eight straight and were ranked 30th in the 31-team league.
Until Talbot helped them break the record, the Flyers had shared it with three other unfortunates – the 1989-90 Quebec Nordiques, 2002-03 St. Louis Blues and 2007-08 Los Angeles Kings. Ironically, Flyers interim head coach Scott Gordon road the Quebec shuttle.
“The good news is that none of them are mine,” said Gordon when asked if any of the goalie pads hanging in the locker room were his.
In the midst of this, the Flyers fired Hextall, their general manager, coach Dave Hakstol and traded one of his stars, Wayne Simmonds. Before the season, Hakstol planned to use Elliott and Neuvirth as the big two with Lyon, the Yale man, as his third. The Neuvirth and Lyon were injured and the craziness commenced.
Once the Flyers get through this season, it looks as if Hart, just 20 years old, and Talbot, who also once played for the New York Rangers, will take the team into the 2019-20 season.
Hart, a second-round pick in 2016, was playing for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms of the American Hockey League and that’s where the organization wanted him to stay this season. But he began to change everyone’s mind when he won his first two starts and then eight straight (from Jan. 14 to Feb. 9) to tie an N.H.L. record for a goalie under 21.
“He’s going to only continue to get better,” Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov said about Hart. “It’s impressive. He plays with a lot of confidence as a young goaltender. You don’t see that often.”
Hart was named NHL Rookie of the Month for January after going 6-2-1 with a 2.33 goals-against average and .931 save percentage in nine starts. Over that span, he led the NHL in saves with 283. But even he was injured (ankle) and hasn’t played since Feb. 21.
The Flyers (32-26-8) have gone 17-4-2 over their last 23 games and are just five points behind Montreal for the final Wildcard in the Eastern Conference.