Lehigh Valley Leaning on Lyon

Thursday, December 8, 2016
Photo: Nina Weiss/Highland Park Hockey
Lyon more than okay with extended playing time

Written by: Tim Riday - Twitter

Being part of a goaltending tandem isn't the easiest situation for a professional hockey player. The ultimate goal is team success. The standings are what really matters. If you have two solid netminders who give you a chance to win every night, what's the problem?

Well, pride and competitiveness is where it all starts. Every goalie wants to be the No. 1 guy, no matter what they say to the media. Some even play better when they know they'll have the crease all to themselves.

Just look at what's going on with the Philadelphia Flyers right now. Steve Mason struggled out of the gates this season but an injury to teammate Michal Neuvirth opened up an opportunity for Mason to seize the starting job.

And boy has he. There's a reason he was recently named NHL First Star of the Week. He's been superb.

It's unfortunate it took an injury to Neuvirth for Mason to break out but the reality is the Flyers really needed him to elevate his game regardless. He's not the only one benefitting, either.

Lehigh Valley Phantoms starter Anthony Stolarz, who's gone 6-2-0 with a 2.39 goals-against average, .927 save percentage and one shutout in nine AHL games in 2016-17, was recalled to back up Mason in Philadelphia. He even earned a win in his lone appearance for the big club, which also happened to be his NHL debut.

But with Stolarz out of town, first-year Phantom Alex Lyon has been the de facto No. 1 for Lehigh Valley. He's the unchallenged go-to between the pipes for the foreseeable future and he wouldn't have it any other way.

“It’s been weird for me ever since [Stolarz has] been gone," Lyon said late last month. "I’m much more comfortable as a starter because I’ve spent the last 15 years of my life playing every single game. The fact that I’m the guy they’re leaning on is easier for me than going just spots.”

Lyon joined the Flyers' organization on April 5 after a successful three-year career at Yale. In 93 collegiate games, he posted an impressive 50-29-14 record with a 1.88 goals-against average, .931 save percentage and 15 shutouts.

The Flyers weren't the only team interested in the two-time Ken Dryden Award recipient (best goalie in the ECAC), however. Several teams lined up for his services but Lyon felt the Flyers were the best fit.
General manager Ron Hextall had to burn one year off of Lyon's entry-level contract to get him but it's a move that looks like will be beneficial for both sides.

At the beginning of the year, Lyon knew he was going to serve as Lehigh Valley's backup behind Stolarz but also understood he would receive ample playing time. He just had to bide his time.

After all, Mason and Neuvirth haven't exactly been able to stay healthy for long periods. Both are also on expiring deals, so it's possible Lyon feels this could be his quickest route to the NHL.
He's just going to have to earn it. This is his chance.

Stolarz, an AHL All Star in his first full season as a starter in 2015-16, lasted started for the Phantoms on Nov. 12. Since then, it's been the Lyon show.

"I think the team is coming together more and more every single day on and off the ice, which makes a big difference," Lyon said. "It’s been fun.”

Lyon tended the net in the first nine Phantoms' games since Stolarz's promotion. During that stretch, he's went 7-3-0 and has seen his season numbers improve greatly.

After back-to-back losses in which he allowed five goals in each game to start the campaign, Lyon has watched his save percentage rise to .916 and his save percentage lower to a respectable 2.54 in his last 11 overall.

The youngster even picked up his first professional shutout on Nov. 23 against Binghamton, turning aside all 28 shots fired his way.

What's been most impressive is how he's responded to losses though. He has not dropped back-to-back games since assuming the starting job. He's mentally strong and doesn't let much bother him.

Lyon's also blessed with quick reflexes and sound positional play. He's a technique-oriented goalie, which allows him to exhibit a superior core and lower-body strength.

When you watch him closely, it's hard not to swoon over his lateral movement. He's also spectacular at tracking and predicting where the puck will wind up. That enables him to use his quick glove hand to hold onto it or redirect shots with his shoulders, blocker or stick into safe areas.

You can say he's always a step ahead. There's very little panic to his game. He's a cool and collected customer.

And the heavy workload? That's nothing to Lyon.

“I actually prefer it," he said. "I don’t mind back-to-backs. I think there is a lot of research and statistics that would suggest that goalies are actually better on back-to-back nights because you get in a groove. I feel good right now."

Although Lyon is enjoying the playing time while he's getting it, he's also a good soldier about splitting time.

Most goalies at the professional level are the same. They aren't going to speak badly about their fellow netminder. It's just not how they are wired.

But you won't hear them complain when they receive the brunt of the workload. Many goalies, including Lyon, prefer busy games with a lot of shot attempts. That is something that will keep them sharp.

In Lyon's case, he often times tries to deflect the praise elsewhere when things are going well, too. Just because he wants to play every night, doesn't mean he's a bad teammate who is unwilling to serve in a tandem.

Quite the opposite. Lyon is a team guy. He's speaks very highly of the guys in front of him.

"We’ve been incredible," he said. "Like I said, you just can’t speak enough about the defense. They’ve been phenomenal.”

And so has Lyon, even if he won’t come out and say it.

Edited by Tony Androckitis


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