After an inconsistent rookie season that saw the Edison, New Jersey native win just nine games in 31 appearances in an AHL backup role, Stolarz is looking for his 20th win of the season this season when the Phantoms take on the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins Wednesday night at the PPL Center. It will also be Stolarz’s 11th straight start in net for Lehigh Valley, who are leaning on their goaltender to help make a push toward the postseason.
“I don’t think people give him enough credit,” rookie forward Cole Bardreau said of Stolarz after his franchise record 51 saves last Wednesday night in Syracuse. “Especially for a goalie in this league to be playing as much Stolarz is. It’s unbelievable what he’s doing, especially the three-on-three’s. He’s been the anchor. It’s been pretty sloppy for us as of late and he’s the one holding us in there and giving us a chance to win. I can’t say enough about him.”
Another one of Stolarz’s teammates, forward Aaron Palushaj, said after last Sunday’s win in Hartford that he often tells Stolarz that he reminds him of a former goalie teammate of his during Palushaj’s rookie season in the AHL back in the 2009-10 season with then St. Louis Blues affiliate, the Peoria Rivermen.
“Stolie is playing with the confidence that I have only seen a few goalies play with in this league,” Palushaj said. “I tell him all the time he reminds me of Ben Bishop when I played with him, which is obviously a huge compliment for him.”
“He’s a great goalie, he’s playing really well, and we just need him to keep kicking it for us,” added Palushaj.
Despite not making his NHL debut in his latest recall to the Flyers, it was good for Stolarz to practice in Philadelphia with the NHL players shooting on him and the coaching staff working with him.
“When I was up with the Flyers, I was able to work with [Flyers goaltending coach] Kim Dillabaugh and we kind of worked on some things to clean up my game,” Stolarz said of his latest stint with the Flyers. “He was able to see me live and not just through game film.”
Stolarz is 19-14-5 on the season with a 2.49 goals-against average and .909 save percentage. After being pulled in his first start back in the AHL after his latest recall to Philadelphia, Stolarz has started the last 10 games for Lehigh Valley, including a seven game stretch of two back-to-back, three-game weekends and a Phantoms’ franchise-record 51-save win last Wednesday night in Syracuse.
“When I got pulled that game [against Utica] it was kind of frustrating, but I knew I had to get back at it and work hard,” said Stolarz. “The next weekend I ended up playing all three, so kind of a quick turnaround for me.”
In those last seven games, Stolarz was an impressive 4-1-2 with a 2.08 goals-against average and .943 save percentage. With Jason LaBarbera dealing with a nagging injury, the Phantoms will continue to give Stolarz an increased workload as Lehigh Valley sits nine points out of the postseason with 16 games left in their regular season schedule entering Wednesday night’s game against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
“I think for me the biggest thing as the games go on, I seem to get better and better,” Stolarz said, adding, “I kind of trained myself in the offseason to be ready for this. Last year, I only played in, I think, 31 games and this year I’m up to 39. For me it’s exciting to go out there and know that I’m going to be playing games and getting shots. Anytime you can be in a playoff push as well, it makes things exciting down the stretch.”
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