Want to know how desperate it is around Flyers land these days?
Here's how: Goaltender Michal Neuvirth, missing from the team since tweaking a "lower-body injury'' on Sept. 21, will start a regular-season game for the first time in almost seven months when he faces the Islanders on Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center.
That's not the desperate part. The desperate part is that they need him to be the game-changer some of his past performances have suggested he could be, not the china doll who has endangered his future as an NHL goaltender.
"We don't need a goaltender to go in and necessarily be the spark,'' Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said Friday after practice at the SkateZone in Voorhees. "… But somebody's got to be the spark. I guarantee you that. To push us in the right direction.''
"I feel like my game is where it needs to be right now,'' Neuvirth said after the practice. But when asked if he thought he could provide a spark for a 4-6 team that seems fragile, Neuvirth said, "This is a team sport. We need everybody to play good tomorrow to get a win.''
That seems a greater leap than leaning on Neuvirth, who played in just 25 games last season, including three playoff games in relief of Brian Elliott. While he allowed seven goals on 27 shots in the last of those – the 8-5 loss to the Penguins that ended the Flyers' season – he also stopped 30 of 32 shots in a 4-2 victory in the previous game.
Neuvirth actually will take a three-game regular-season winning streak into the clash with the Islanders, who are 3-4-1 this season and have lost four of their last five games after a promising start.
The Flyers, of course, aren't particularly sympathetic. They have scored one goal over their last two games, they are struggling mightily on special teams, and many of their key guys are playing as if something is wrong with them.
"The longer games go, and you can't get a puck in, you start thinking about it,'' winger Oskar Lindblom said. "We have goal scorers on this team. We just have to keep shooting and getting to the net.''
"I want our team to go and play with confidence, go and play together,'' Hakstol said. "And it's hard. We put together a pretty good road game [in Thursday's 3-0 loss in Boston]. But as soon as we gave up that first goal, our confidence broke a little bit. And that's something we have to handle ourselves. And that has to come from within."
Said Neuvirth: "It starts with little things. You've got to build up the confidence with the little things. Right now, we've got to play shift by shift, stick together. Play the system.''
"My message is this,'' Hakstol said. "Let's go and be a little bit better. Let's give each other that push and that boost and that confidence. Let's go to battle … and let's go get it done. That's what's going to get us going in the right direction.''