PHILADELPHIA -- The question 10 days ago was: Is Ron Hextall the Philadelphia Flyers' No. 1 goalie?
The answer now 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 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 the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday, Hextall solidified his grip on the job with a fine performance Tuesday in a 3-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings.
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 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 is most remarkable about Hextall's recent play is that he has managed to overshadow his competitors for the job, Ken Wregget and Pete Peeters. Wregget was a National Hockey League 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, made him the starter for last night'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 Holmgren. 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.