Michal Neuvirth is enjoying the best stretch of his goaltending career and leads the NHL in save percentage. Yet he remains the Philadelphia Flyers' backup goaltender.
Steve Mason is the starter and could get the nod from coach Dave Hakstol again Thursday against the Vancouver Canucks after Neuvirth played the previous four games.
"We just keep evaluating it on a day-to-day basis," Hakstol said Monday after practice in Voorhees, N.J. "I've said all the way along, Mase is our No. 1 guy. We know Neuvy's real good. And I think that's played out."
Two goalies playing extremely well is a good problem for the Flyers to have and one the Canucks would gladly take. Not that a 6-2 loss at the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night was Ryan Miller's fault, and quite the opposite, but Vancouver isn't able to lean on its goaltending when things fall apart elsewhere on the ice.
Miller, who coach Willie Desjardins called "outstanding" in Minnesota, and backup Jacob Markstrom have combined for a .906 save percentage this season. That's tied for 21st in the NHL.
Some of those problems have to do with the Canucks as a team. But Miller told reporters Tuesday night in St. Paul that it's his job to "solve problems" and blamed himself for not doing that well enough in the loss to the Wild.
Desjardins said Wednesday in Minnesota that there was a chance Markstrom would start in Philadelphia. Once a highly-touted Florida Panthers prospect, the 25-year-old is on track like Mason was not long ago to re-establishing himself in the NHL.
Mason's numbers are down this season, but he had a .928 save percentage a year ago and is the Flyers' franchise goaltender based on his body of work since being acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2014.
Neuvirth has a league-best .937 save percentage in 14 stars and two relief appearances. Once a starter with the Washington Capitals and after stints with the Buffalo Sabres and New York Islanders, he's taking the games as they come.
"I believe in myself, and I'm enjoying hockey right now," Neuvirth said Monday. "My goal is to be a No. 1 goalie in this league and that's what I'm fighting for and working hard for."
Neuvirth is perhaps the best 1A goalie in the NHL right now, and Hakstol knows it. That's why he let the 27-year-old start on back-to-back nights on the road over the weekend.
When Hakstol told Neuvirth he'd start in Dallas on Saturday after beating the St. Louis Blues on Friday, it was "big news" to the goaltender. Neuvirth went out and stopped 41 of 43 shots against the NHL's best offence in a 3-1 loss to the Stars.
In his first season in Philadelphia after being a mainstay as coach at the University of North Dakota, Hakstol has different challenges with goaltenders at this level. So far he's willing to ride the hot hand and still call Mason his guy and read the situation as it develops.
"I don't think it's one black-and-white philosophy," Hakstol said. "We've got two good goaltenders. I think that's a healthy situation. I think you need to have that: both guys pushing each other."
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Stephen Whyno, The Canadian Press