|Photo: Nina Weiss/Highland Park Hockey|
Written by: Tony Androckitis - Twitter/Facebook
When Anthony Stolarz finished up his first practice back with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms last week, he talked about looking forward to getting back into a rhythm and playing lots of games following his first real NHL stint with the Philadelphia Flyers last month.
With Stolarz back in the AHL for last weekend's three-game set, the assumption was that Stolarz would get the Friday and Sunday game with Alex Lyon making an appearance in Saturday's tilt.
That was not to be as Lyon recorded an impressive 31-save shutout Saturday against the Albany Devils.
Lyon earned the back-to-back start Sunday, surprising many. In fact, head coach Scott Gordon said after Sunday's game he was initially leaning towards going back to Stolarz before talking it over with goaltending development coach Brady Robinson and deciding on Lyon.
"I thought Saturday night was Alex's best game of the year," Gordon said Sunday. "I thought he made a lot of difficult saves look easy. You don't do that unless you're doing something right. There were a lot of plays that they had speed coming down and good looks at the net. There were just plays that he had to be sharp on and his positioning made it look like it was easy and they weren't. I thought it was a good opportunity to reward him to come back with him."
While Stolarz was in the NHL, it was the Alex Lyon show in Lehigh Valley. In the month of December, Lyon started all but one of the team's 12 games and really got into a rhythm - something he mentioned he wanted after an 0-2 start to his pro career. Even with Stolarz back, Lyon's confidence is soaring.
"Obviously before the year started, I set high expectations for myself," Lyon said after another strong showing Sunday vs. Utica. "I'm just trying to meet those every single day. I feel more comfortable just as far as being around the rink and the guys. That's a big part of it as a rookie, and that's huge. The pace of the play is getting easier for me, which it naturally should."
Gordon echoed those sentiments when asked about Lyon's progression from the start of the season to date.
"I think for me, there's more consistency with what he's doing," the Phantoms' bench boss said, adding, "He looks more comfortable. There seems to be less and less awkward moments where he looked a little off balance. I think that's just getting accustomed to some of the things the goalie coaches have worked with him on."
Lyon went 7-3-1 in 11 starts last month, adding to his league-leading 16 wins this season. Last weekend, he was stellar in net - stopping 53 of the 54 shots he faced in two wins.
"Obviously playing so much [last month], it gives me a little bit of fuel for the fire," Lyon said, explaining, "It's back to a competition again. And he's the same way. He wants to play every game and I want to play every game, so we're just going to be able to push each other."
Gordon certainly will have a tough decision moving forward on who to put between the pipes, but after Sunday's win against Utica he was forthcoming about his plan for the goalies this weekend in a home and home series with rival Hershey. Stolarz will get the start Friday night at home and Lyon will get the nod Saturday in Hershey.
"It doesn't matter who's here," Gordon said when asked about Lyon pushing Stolarz for more starts. "The goalies have to, whether it's a competition with their partner or with themselves, push themselves to get better every day. I don't think anyone will question Alex's work ethic. Whether Stolie is here or not, he's going to give the same effort every day."