|Alex Lyon has had quite the start to his pro career. Photo: Nina Weiss/Highland Park Hockey|
It looks like Alex Lyon wasn't kidding when he said he performs better as the go-to guy in net and not just a spot starter.
He has, according Lyon himself, been the guy his team has leaned on for the last 15 or so years of his life - from pee wee hockey all the way through his four years at Yale University prior to signing an entry level contract with the Philadelphia Flyers organization this past summer.
After starting the year 0-2 with a pair of five-goal defeats as a rookie behind Anthony Stolarz, Lyon assumed the de facto number one for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms when Stolarz was called up to Philadelphia on November 14th.
Who would have thought that Lyon, just 36 days after picking up his first career pro win on November 11th in Utica, would be leading the entire American Hockey League (AHL) with 13 wins heading into the holiday break.
"For me, especially as a goalie, you're on such an island," Lyon said after his league-leading 13th win on Saturday night. "I'm just trying to perfect my craft, and then that's going to help the team."
It wasn't all sunshine and rainbows for Lyon from day one of his pro career. In fact, he lost both of his first two starts with Lehigh Valley earlier this fall - allowing a total of 10 goals on 69 shots.
Head coach Scott Gordon said those two starts were probably the worst position Lyon has been put into in terms of giving him a chance to succeed. The team in front of him played poorly in both of those games, not giving Lyon much of a chance on the ice. Not to mention he hadn't been playing regularly or getting into any kind of rhythm.
With Anthony Stolarz playing well for the Phantoms - winning three starts in a row to begin November - and the team's first three-in-three weekend approaching, coach Gordon knew he needed to get Lyon into game action and allow him to start building confidence in his game.
A road game in Utica on November 11th provided a perfect opportunity - the first game of the three-game set - for Lyon to face an, at the time, struggling Comets team. Little did anyone now then, but Lyon's first pro win and confidence-building performance came at the perfect time.
Stolarz went on to get his fourth straight win the following night at home against Toronto and was subsequently called up to Philadelphia, but not before Lyon went into the Giant Center on Sunday evening and put forth an impressive 35-save performance in the Phantoms' 3-1 win over rival Hershey.
Starting in the Starter's Role
After his personal four-game win streak was snapped in Bridgeport, the response in his following start was certainly a defining moment in his rookie season to date. On Thanksgiving Eve in Binghamton, Lyon posted his first career shutout in the Phantoms' 1-0 win over the BSens.
All be told, Lyon has been an absolute workhorse for the Phantoms lately - starting in all but one of the team's last 17 games and going 12-4 in that span.
He was also in net for last Wednesday's wild 8-6 win against Bridgeport, and despite allowing the six goals was able to battle through and earn the win. While six goals allowed is never a good night for a goaltender, quite a few of them were the result of poor decision-making and turnovers from the team playing in front him.
But much like the last time he was victimized against Bridgeport back in November when he assumed the starter's role, Lyon was able to respond to some adversity in a positive way last weekend with back-to-back wins against two red-hot opponents - giving both the team and himself five straight wins heading into the holiday break.
Gordon took notice to Lyon's ability to battle through adversity and respond in a good way.
"I think for Alex it was a good game for him after Wednesday and the frustration of giving up six goals. Anytime as a goaltender, it's frustrating," Gordon said of his starting goalie after Friday night's shootout win over Hershey. " To be able to bounce back and his performance as good as it was, I don't think we gave up the same caliber chances we gave up Wednesday. But he made some key saves. From that standpoint, the game was a little easier. But he did a really good job of controlling rebounds and finding pucks."
Lyon has been both a steadying and calming force in net for Lehigh Valley, even cracking a joke in his post-game media session when asked about the incredible saves he made in the final seconds of overtime in last weekend's shootout win over Hershey.
"Um.. hold on for dear life. SOS.. that type of mentality I think. No I'm kidding," Lyon said of the save he made while falling on his back. "It's just one of those where it's a mad scramble so you just do anything you can to keep it out. It's a lot of adrenaline at that point so you're not really able to dictate a play."
With Lyon playing as well as he has been lately, it will be interesting to see how the goalie situation in the Flyers organization shakes out once Michal Neuvirth is able to return from injury and Anthony Stolarz is reassigned to Lehigh Valley, if that is the case.
Until then, Lyon will continue to be the go-to guy in net for the Phantoms and he'll continue to develop his game at the pro level. He still has the ultimate goal in his mind.
"I'm just focusing on becoming an NHL goalie, being really consistent, giving the team a chance to win. Realistically, if we can give up two or three a night we are probably going to score more than them on most nights. That's kind of the mentality I try to take, trying to build my game so I can get to the next level."