At first glance, the pregame shootaround looked the same. Hockey players chucking up bombs from all over the event level of the Wells Fargo Center -- shooting form that made Markelle Fultz look like Herb Magee in comparison.
On second glance, there was a difference. A big, 6-foot-6 difference. Anthony Stolarz, the latest goaltender in the Flyers endless pursuit of them, was underneath the hoop, playing center, tracking the bombs, calmly returning the wild bounces off the backboard and rim to their authors.
Stolarz made 26 saves in the Flyers' 4-3 overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets Thursday night. Some of the saves were spectacular and at least one of the goals was the type that has Cal Pickard now toiling for Arizona. But the overall impression he left was of a man in control, a goalie who settled down a group that has often played in its own end this season as if their hosiery were on fire.
“Well, that’s Stolie,” said Flyers captain Claude Giroux. "He goes and does his job and doesn’t overthink it.”
It may be the toughest part of playing goal at this level. Letting the play come to you, as Brian Elliott likes to say when attempting to explain how a goaltender finds that elusive zone. Reacting, not acting, compartmentalizing each save as its own entity so as to not allow the outcome of one play dictate the outcome of your overall performance.
“Obviously you don’t want to give up those squeakers,” he said. We score that first goal, and when I give up a goal like that — it kind of deflates the team a little bit.
There was nothing nice to say about the first goal Stolarz allowed last night. Seth Jones pretty much poked it towards the net and Stolarz, acting more than reacting, allowed it to trickle through his pads. That it came just one minute and eight seconds after Giroux had lasered one past Sergei Bobrovsky for the game’s first goal only added to its ugliness.
It was also an invitation, and Columbus obliged. By the end of the period the Blue Jackets had peppered Stolarz with 13 shots, scoring again late when Brandon Dubinsky took advantage of a stickless Andrew MacDonald and redirected a shot from the point past him. In between though, Stolarz stoned Josh Anderson a couple of times, made a windmill glove save on Artemi Panarin during one of Columbus’s five power plays on the night.
The Flyers killed them all, extending their streak of consecutive penalty kills to 14.
Guess who’s been the goalie for three of those games?
“One of the things he did well tonight, he helped our defensemen with a lot of little bump plays, breakout plays,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said.”He was good back there. And he did it with poise. He wasn’t in a rush when he had the puck below the goal line. He made a lot of real good simple plays — not doing too much.
“Along with that, the obvious part of his job, especially through the second period and some of the PKs, he made some real good saves. But the biggest part for me was how he responded after that first one slid through. That shows to me a little bit of his poise, confidence, maybe calm is a word he wants to use.”
Columbus had 25 of its 30 total shots through two periods. They scored on three of them, but only the first was cheap. Stolarz stoned Riley Nash on consecutive shots in front. He slid across to somehow deny Dubinsky another time. Panarin smashed his stick after he thwarted another opportunity.
The bottom line at the end of the night was this: He provided NHL caliber goaltending, for the fourth game in a row. For a guy who wasn’t even on the radar just a few weeks ago, a guy who couldn’t even get a start at the AHL level, a guy whose freakish second knee injury cost him all but a few games of that season – well"calm" just doesn’t do it justice.
Spectacularly steady — so far — might be a better way to term it.
"He’s been big for us," said Scott Laughton."From being the third or fourth string goalie and coming in here…
"He’s a good goalie and a good guy. I’m really happy for him."
The Flyers are going to need another goalie to pair with Carter Hart down the road. The thought just a few weeks ago was that they would need to go find someone more battle tested than the list they have used over the course of two seasons, or any prospect in their system. Maybe that’s still true. But it’s hard to believe there is anyone out there more battle tested than Stolarz is.
“I want the guys to be comfortable with me in the net,” said Stolarz. ”So they can take some chances and rely on me to make the big save. The fact that I’m making some big saves is a confidence booster for me. But at the end of the day, you’ve got to give your team a chance to win."