WINNIPEG, Manitoba – Michal Neuvirth’s return to action Sunday was a disaster.
The often-injured 30-year-old goalie allowed three goals on 10 shots and was pulled from the game in the second period of the Flyers’ 7-1 loss to Winnipeg at Bell MTS Place.
“Obviously, I was rusty,” Neuvirth said. “I needed to be better, for sure.”
The Flyers dominated the powerful Jets in the first half of the game, but faced a 3-1 deficit despite having a 24-10 shots advantage.
Neuvirth struggled. Winnipeg goalie Connor Hellebuyck didn’t.
And that is the abridged version as to why the Flyers (12-13-3) lost for the eighth time in their last 11 games.
“We had a great start and we were all over them, and their goalie made a couple big saves," Neuvirth said. “And pretty much they scored on every [chance] they had.”
The Flyers are 1-1 on a five-game road trip that still has stops in Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver.
Winnipeg (18-9-2), rebounding from a 1-0 loss to St. Louis, scored three power-play goals and a shorthanded tally as it won for the fifth time in six games.
Neuvirth, who has been injured most of the season and was playing in just his second game – his first was Oct. 27, a 6-1 loss to the New York Islanders – was replaced by Anthony Stolarz with 12 minutes, 29 seconds to go in the second. The Jets had just taken a 3-1 lead as Brandon Tanev got behind defenseman Ivan Provorov and knocked in a juicy rebound left by Neuvirth.
“Dave was trying to wake up the guys. Change the momentum,” Neuvirth said, referring to coach Dave Hakstol.
“Until we gave up the third goal, we were playing the game we wanted to play in this building,” Hakstol said. “.... Our response after we gave up the third goal was not the right response. We got careless and sloppy with the puck, and when you do that, one bad thing leads to the next.”
The Flyers controlled the first period, outshooting the Jets, 17-6. Yet they left the ice facing a 2-1 deficit.
The difference was Hellebuyck, who made 16 saves, including six during the Flyers’ most impressive power play in several weeks. Early in the first, Hellebuyck (36 saves) made eye-opening power-play stops on two point-blank shots by Wayne Simmonds and one by James van Riemsdyk.
“He stood on his head," captain Claude Giroux said.
“It’s pretty frustrating,” Simmonds said of Hellebuyck’s outstanding play, “but we have to do a better job of fighting through adversity. It wasn’t good enough.”
The Jets took a 1-0 lead when Kyle Connor scored on a wrist shot from above the right circle with 8:22 to go in the first. The goal, scored on just the Jets’ fourth shot against Neuvirth, followed a Flyers turnover.
About three minutes later, Josh Morrissey scored on a power-play drive from the point. Neuvirth was slow to fight through Provorov’s screen, ending the Flyers’ streak of 15 straight penalty kills.
With 2:26 remaining in the first, the Flyers got to within 2-1 when Jake Voracek tipped Travis Sanheim’s point drive past Hellebuyck. Visions of Saturday’s comeback win in Buffalo probably danced in their head.
In that game, the Flyers spotted the Sabres a 2-0 lead, then scored the last six goals.
Early in the second, Hellebuyck made yet another big save on Simmonds in front. About a minute later, Tanev chased Neuvirth and gave the Jets a 3-1 lead.
Things got worse.
After Stolarz entered the game, the Flyers looked uninterested and were outshot, 21-4, in the first 17 minutes after the goalie change.
New general manager Chuck Fletcher, who watched from his suite, probably was writing down the names of some defensemen (Alex Pietrangelo?) on his wish list.
The Jets made it 4-1 when Dustin Byfuglien’s power-drive from the point deflected off the stick of the Flyers’ Dale Weise and past Stolarz with 5:29 left in the second.
“We were down 3-1 and I thought we were still playing good hockey,” Simmonds said. "And then they got the fourth one and we stopped playing.”
Just 1:28 later, Blake Wheeler padded the Jets’ lead to 5-1, scoring on a shorthanded breakaway after Shayne Gostisbehere couldn’t keep the puck in the zone.
Winnipeg kept adding to its total in the third period, when the fans did the wave and mocked easy saves made by Stolarz, and the six-goal loss equaled the Flyers' worst of the season.