Ron Hextall Saves Job: No. 1 Goalie

Posted: December 20, 1990

The question 10 days ago was: Is Ron Hextall the Flyers' No. 1 goalie?

The answer today is: Yes.

Hextall, who missed 21 games because of a sprained left knee, began reclaiming the job with a stellar performance in his first game back, a hard- fought 5-4 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on Dec. 9.

After playing well in a tie with the New York Islanders last week and in a victory over Winnipeg on Sunday, Hextall solidified his grip on the job with a fine performance Tuesday in a 3-1 loss in Detroit.

In that game, Hextall made 27 saves - 14 in the third period - and many came on tough chances against such sharpshooters as Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov and Johan Garpenlov. Detroit's third goal was shot into an empty net.

Hextall, 26, who says you really can't rank goalies as No. 1, 2 or 3, wasn't that impressed.

"I don't know, I guess it was all right," he said of his effort. "I thought the guys played really well and kept their scoring chances down pretty good."

What's most remarkable about Hextall's recent play is that he has managed to overshadow completely his competitors for the job, Ken Wregget and Pete Peeters. Wregget was an NHL player of the week in October; Peeters was the NHL player of the month for November. And both had played well for long stretches.

Wregget stuck out in Saturday's 3-1 loss to Detroit at the Spectrum. But Hextall's superb play in Chicago and Detroit, and his unique ability to clear the puck and inspire his teammates, has made him the starter for tonight's game against the New Jersey Devils at the Spectrum.

Flyers coach Paul Holmgren's philosophy on goaltenders is that if they're hot, they play.

A problem? Not for Holmgrem. He wishes he had this much competition at every position.

"We have three goalies," Holmgren said. "They've all played well for us. It's just a situation we have to live with. They're on the boat, and I've asked them not to rock the boat."

Holmgren's biggest concern before Hextall returned was that the 1986-87 Vezina Trophy winner had lost his edge. As it turned out, those fears were unfounded.

"It was important for us to just get him back and playing," Holmgren said. "We thought, in the games he did play, if he held up injury-wise, we'd have to bite the bullet because he'd be rusty a little bit. But he hasn't really shown a lot of rust in the games he's played."

One problem Hextall has faced since his return has been a lack of work. The Flyers allowed Chicago to pepper the goalie with 33 shots in his first game back, but Hextall has faced fewer than 22 in two of the five games in which he has played. He faced 21 shots against Winnipeg on Sunday and just 16 against Washington on Dec. 11.

While that has limited the other teams' scoring chances, it also has limited Hextall's chance to work out his kinks. He went more than 10 minutes without facing a shot against Winnipeg in both the first and third periods. Don't get him wrong, though. Hextall said he'd much rather face fewer shots in a game and work that much harder in practice.

"It's not easy coming back, but that's no excuse," he said. "You practice to get sharp. When you come in, I don't think because you're out for six weeks you can use that as an excuse and say that 'I'm not sharp because I was out for a while.' I think it is an excuse, so I try not to use it."

As for his celebrated problem with injuries - he has had four pulled groin muscles, a pulled hamstring and a sprained knee in the last season and a half - Hextall said, "What injuries?"

"Physically, I feel good," he said. "So I don't even think about getting hurt or not getting hurt."

He lets Holmgren worry about that.

NOTES. Right winger Tim Kerr practiced for the second straight day yesterday, after suffering cartilage damage in his right knee on Nov. 10. He said he hoped to be able to play sometime next week.

Kerr said he thought Tuesday that he'd be able to play tonight, but said yesterday that he wanted to make sure the inflammation had subsided before he

went full tilt. Holmgren, who said he expected Kerr back in a week or two, said that he did not want to rush Kerr and that he had to "kick him off" the ice yesterday.

The Flyers' game against the Devils will begin at 7:35. To win, Holmgren said, the Flyers need to avoid penalties, stop the Devils' defensemen from joining the offensive rush, and limit the scoring chances of John MacLean, Kirk Muller, Peter Stastny, Brendan Shanahan and Claude Lemieux. "We haven't really found a way to beat them," he said. The Flyers are 1-3-1 against the Devils this season.

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