You’ve heard the expression “putting lipstick on a pig”, right? If you have, then consider Detroit Red Wings’ goaltender Alex Lyon as the pocket-sized cosmetic product, while the defense in front of him can be described as the swine part of that phrase. Detroit’s blue line play has been downright ugly this season, but Lyon’s play of late has helped keep the Red Wings afloat in the Eastern Conference playoff standings.
On Thursday (Nov. 11) vs. the Edmonton Oilers, the former Florida Panther goaltender was peppered with flying rubber – facing 47 shots against Connor McDavid and company. He stopped 44, stealing the Red Wings a meaningful point in the process as Edmonton won 3-2 on a Darnell Nurse overtime goal. Detroit started the season with three goaltenders on the roster –Ville Husso, James Reimer, and Lyon. Raise your hand if you had the undrafted free agent being the best option out of that threesome and envisioned the 6-foot-1 backstop starting the majority of games heading into the second half of the regular season schedule.
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The Red Wings didn’t give the 31-year-old netminder a shot in the crease until mid-November, as Husso and Reimer shared the net for the club’s first 16 games. But both backstops struggled leaving the organization frustrated in their search for a reliable goaltender. Just maybe, they already had one. Enter Lyon. He has played solid in net for Detroit and, for the meantime, has finally settled the seemingly never-ending carousel that doomed the Red Wings in that awful December stretch which produced three and four-game losing streaks for the team.
Lyon has gone 8-3-1 in 13 games for the Red Wings this season with a 2.54 goals-against average (GAA) and a .922 save percentage (SV%) that ranks sixth in the NHL. That’s almost preposterous considering Detroit ranks towards the bottom of the league in goals against, allowing 3.39 per game and has spoon-fed opposing teams a considerable amount of odd-man rushes during the first three months of the season.
It’s hard for this writer to explain but there’s a different feel to the game when Lyon is between the pipes, as if he’s a calming presence for this underachieving team that continues to search for an identity. This is not unfamiliar territory for Lyon as he proved to be a valuable commodity down the stretch for the Panthers last season, backstopping a six-game winning streak that led to a berth in the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs for Florida. He has always been a reliable backup during his seven-year career, with a .908 SV% and a 2.92 GAA sprawled out over 52 games, but he’s never been “the guy”. Right now for the Red Wings he is and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.
The “Lyon” King
Husso, who was injured during the 4-3 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Dec. 18, continues to show progress but is still weeks away from playing and has just only begun skating this past week. Reimer doesn’t appear to be seeing the ice any time soon as he continues to search for his game. The Red Wings are set to face a murderer’s row in their next eight games. Games that will define the identity of this team whether they like it or not. Starting Saturday, Jan. 11, Detroit squares off against the Los Angeles Kings, Toronto Maple Leafs, Panthers, Carolina Hurricanes, Tampa Bay Lightning, Dallas Stars, Philadelphia Flyers and the Vegas Golden Knights – in that order. Easy task, right?
Lyon is known for his unique personality and his laid-back style. He doesn’t take himself seriously and appreciates the opportunity he has been given. It is well known he doesn’t engage with social media and that’s not something one should find shocking. The Minnesota native recently told Bally Sports Detroit that he “appreciates hockey history” and what it means to be a Red Wing. That’s the kind of demeanor and attitude that an organization wants from their top option in the crease.
Red Wings head coach Derek Lalonde has been criticized for his team’s defensive play and his refusal to commit to Lyon sooner, with many fans asking if the second-year head coach is on the hot seat. Many analysts believe, including this amateur one, that he should’ve made the move earlier in December while the team was still clinging to a playoff spot. But Lalonde seems to have turned a corner in regards to Lyon. He had nothing but praise for his starting goaltender after the Oilers loss. “Our guys feed off him,” Lalonde said. “He was excellent. Handling the puck, his rebound control. Some big saves too. He’s a big part of why we got a point.”
There’s still time for Detroit to figure out who they are as a team from a defensive standpoint, but the clock is ticking. Giving up that many shots to the Oilers was not a good look for a club trying to improve in their own end. The Red Wings had to rely on Lyon to grind out three “ugly” wins on their recent California trip. Can he keep up that pace of play as Detroit faces the toughest stretch on their schedule? Time will tell but it’s hard to be optimistic with the way they have played the last six weeks. It remains to be seen if general manager Steve Yzerman has something up his sleeve as we approach the trade deadline. If the team can stay in the thick of things after this upcoming stretch it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Red Wings legend make a deal to form a 1-2 punch for the stretch run. But for now, you can be sure that Lyon has finally become a number one goaltender.