DENVER - Goaltending coach Reggie Lemelin has been with the Flyers long enough to know what happens when the starting and backup goalies become the subject of comparison.

It comes under the heading "goalie controversy." It's never good, it's often real, and the result is always unpredictable.

So yesterday afternoon, on a warm, quiet day in Denver with players and coaches getting ready to meet in the hotel lobby for lunch and enjoy an afternoon off, the last thing Lemelin wanted to hear were questions about Marty Biron and how he's played compared with Antero Niittymaki, and how he's played in his last two starts.

"We have a nice, calm situation in net, finally, and you guys want to stir things up," he said. "I'm not getting into any of that. There isn't anything to get into. We finally have a nice, calm situation back there."

Fair enough. And really, there is nothing to get into.

Marty Biron is still the starter, and while he's been on the same kind of swing from great game to bad game as the rest of the Flyers, he's still the starter, and the Flyers are light-years removed from anything resembling a "goalie controversy."

Still, it was an off day, it was quiet, and Biron was in net for the Flyers' last few stinkers at home and Niittymaki played really well in Minnesota on Wednesday.

So . . .

"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," said Daniel Briere, who also played with Biron in Buffalo. "He's got this attitude where he doesn't let things bother him. He's able to bounce back. I know he's going to bounce back in a good way soon.

"He's been so good early on, we just expect Marty to steal games for us every night. It's like that for every player, not just goalies. But goalies, it jumps out at you more, because you're the last defense out there."

Coach John Stevens agrees and looks for a big game from Biron tonight against the Avalanche.

"Every time he has not had his best outing, he's bounced back with a really good outing, so that's what I would expect tomorrow," Stevens said.

"Our team has been a little bit the same way, so maybe the impact on his game has a little bit to do with the way we've played, as well. But Marty is a self-motivated guy, and when he doesn't play his best, he knows it, and he goes out with a real focus in practice to try to get ready and be a really good player.

"We've talked to Marty [about] what's the difference between when he can't be beat and other times where he doesn't look quite as sharp, and trying to find a routine that works for him. It's just a matter of finding that comfort zone in terms of preparation."

But is there a goalie controversy?

"I think that [Niittymaki] and [Biron] have a really good relationship," Stevens said. "They have the relationship where they root for each other when the other one is in net. They have real strong team values. [Neil Little] and [Niittymaki] had that in the American League.

"I sense that with them as well. They're both competitive guys. They want to play well for their team, and I think it's important for us to have two goalies playing well."

Hextall's landmark shot

Speaking of goaltending, 20 years ago tomorrow, Ron Hextall became the first NHL goalie to shoot the puck into the opposing net.

Speaking of goaltending, 20 years ago tomorrow, Ron Hextall became the first NHL goalie to shoot the puck into the opposing net.

That goal, and the way Hextall played his position and handled the puck, changed the way goalies played.

"You used to be able to rim [the puck] into the zone and not be able to stop the puck at all," Biron said. "He was the first one to even go into the corners and play the puck, and play it really well.

"I shot a puck one time and hit the post in juniors, and I was so mad. I mean, you can't get any closer than that. He's definitely changed the way even players look at goalies.

"If [Hextall] played now with the trapezoid and everything [the area behind the net that determines where a goalie can play the puck], he'd still find ways to play the puck, where now most of the goalies just focus on stopping it.

"Part of being a good goalie is when you can have all these skill sets put together, and the skills that he had for playing the puck was definitely an advantage for him." *