DENVER - Goaltender Martin Biron has the unenviable task of ending the Flyers' vicious win-lose cycle tonight when the Flyers meet the Colorado Avalanche.
The Flyers have not won two games in a row since Nov. 10 and 12 against Pittsburgh and the New York Islanders. They beat Minnesota, 3-1, on Wednesday.
"We played extremely well . . . and we want to keep building on that," Biron said yesterday. ". . . My part is to make the big saves early on to give ourselves that little bit of confidence to play well the rest of the game."
The problem is, Biron's play lately has not been nearly as good as it was in October, when he was 7-2 with a 1.78 goals-against average and a .948 save percentage. In his last seven starts, he is 2-2-2 with a no-decision. He had a 3.56 GAA with a .893 save percentage in those games. Of course, the Flyers have not been very good over that span either, going 4-2-1.
"We've had some up-and-down games as a team, and maybe he wasn't as consistent as he was earlier in the year," said goalie coach Reggie Lemelin. "He gave us so many good games, he kind of spoiled us and we got used to that performance. There's been some home games where we have not been sharp as a team. Most of his road games have been very solid."
Biron's buddy, Danny Briere, said he was not concerned.
"Maybe he's had a couple games where he wasn't as sharp as he's been early, but I'm not worried about Marty," the Flyers center said. "He's got this attitude where he doesn't let things bother him. He's able to bounce back."
Don't look now, but that Finnish blur in the background is Antero Niittymaki, who looked fairly sharp in the victory over the Wild, given his infrequent starts. Niittymaki is not going to unseat Biron, but he could prod him.
"Nitty and I get along extremely well and work extremely well together," Biron said. "When I was playing behind Ryan [Miller] in Buffalo and getting a chance to play and play well, it was for the team No. 1 and for me No. 2. It was not for me to make a push or maybe put pressure on another guy."
Coach John Stevens said Biron was on his game when he played aggressively and could react to the puck rather than guessing where it was going.
"Usually a tip-off for me with Marty is rebound control, and when he makes real good decisions with the puck, that's an indication that he's on his game," Stevens said. "If he's fighting the puck a little bit maybe, or not sharp with his exchanges, then that's an indication that's he's not as sharp as he normally is."
Twenty years ago tomorrow, Ron Hextall became the first NHL goaltender to score by shooting the puck the length of the ice into an opponent's net.
It came during a 5-2 win over the Boston Bruins at the Spectrum.
"My teammates all came off the bench, and that was the special part for me," Hextall told NHL.com. "I remember Scott Mellanby just screaming. I started thinking: 'Maybe this is bigger than I thought.' "
Lemelin, who was on the Boston bench, recalls how Boston's Gord Kluzak twice messed up.
"I tell people this smart guy, Gord Kluzak, who went to Harvard . . . this smart guy dumps the puck to Hexy and he missed the goal. And then 15 seconds later, he did it again, and this time he didn't miss. If this guy is working with you and you think he is so smart, just be careful."
Now the assistant general manager of the Los Angeles Kings, Hextall revolutionized how goalies play the puck.
"He was the first one to go to the corners and play the puck and play it well," Biron said. "I shot a puck at an open end one time in junior and hit the post. I was so mad. You can't get any closer than that."
Only five goalies have ever shot the puck the length of the ice and scored. Hextall did it twice.