Flyers or Capitals: Which Team Has the Bigger Goalie Problem?

Erik Cotton@ ISeptember 5, 2012

Flyers or Capitals: Which Team Has the Bigger Goalie Problem?

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    The Philadelphia Flyers and the Washington Capitals both have had serious goaltending problems over the last several years.  It's the main reason these two talented teams have failed to win a Stanley Cup during that time frame.

    But whose situation is worse?

    Debate all you want on the importance of goaltending in today's NHL.  The 2012 Cup-winning Los Angeles Kings and their backstop Jonathan Quick proved it most certainly still does matter.

    Ask Vancouver fans if goaltending decided the 2011 Finals. 

    Few goalies have been as responsible for their team winning as Tim Thomas was for the Boston Bruins that year.  We watched in amazement as Thomas stopped more shots than any goalie in Finals history while Roberto Luongo surrendered soft goal after soft goal.

    All the offensive talent in the world doesn't equate to wins in the playoffs unless you have someone between the pipes that can make a difference.  The Flyers and Capitals of the last few years exemplify this.

    Let's first examine the state of each team's goaltending, which will then lead us to the answer of who has a bigger problem in net.

The Flyers

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    For some reason, goaltending issues have plagued Philadelphia since the mid-90s.  They have all but ignored the position and its importance until signing Ilya Bryzgalov last offseason.

    Before that, year after year, they prioritized other positions.  Apparently they believed they could get the job done with netminders like Garth Snow and Ray Emery.  You'd have thought 37 years without a Cup would have caused them to abandon that belief, but again not until the summer of 2011 did they actually spend big money on a goalie.

    That goalie was Bryzgalov.  Calling his first season as a Flyer a rollercoaster would be the polite way of putting it.  Schizophrenic might be a better way to describe the Russian's 2011-12 campaign.

    Sean O'Brien of Yahoo! put it best:

    Everyone in the hockey world understands that Bryzgalov's mental focus remains suspect. Confidence is something that any 32-year-old player, who first appeared in the League in the 2001-02 season, should already have. However, goaltenders are a unique and sometimes fragile breed.

    Bryzgalov is only three years removed from winning 42 games with Phoenix while finishing second in the Vezina race in 2010.  He was also a finalist for the Hart Trophy the same season. 

    A rebound year from him is to be expected. 

    But can he handle the pressure in Philadelphia?  The Flyers and their Cup aspirations are counting on it.

The Capitals

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    The Capitals, much like the Flyers, have also struggled to replace a franchise legend.  Even though Olaf Kolzig's play dropped off dramatically in his last few seasons as a Cap, he was still a top-five goalie for six years between 1997-2003.

    Since then, though, the Capitals have also seemed indifferent in their commitment to find another legit No. 1.  They've basically relied on a high-powered offensive game since drafting Alexander Ovechkin.  That's gotten them a lot of wins in the regular season, but not one trip to the Conference Finals in that span.

    Last year saw them focus on a more conservative approach. 

    Their roster, especially now minus Alexander Semin, is not built for the run-and-gun style they used to play.  Yet it took until the playoffs for them to find a goalie able to make a real difference.

    The emergence of Braden Holtby was certainly unforeseen.  For him to play the way he did was a revelation for the Capitals.

    He outplayed reigning Conn Smythe winner Tim Thomas to upset the defending champs in seven games.

    That's all well and good, but he still has only 35 career NHL starts, including the playoffs.  Does he have what it takes to stay consistent over the long haul?  This team is not nearly as explosive offensively anymore, so much of their success or failure will lie at the doorstep of the relatively unknown goalkeeper.

So Which Team Has the Bigger Problem?

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    Even though both teams have some concern in net come October, the Caps have a bigger problem than the Flyers do.

    Philly is stacked up front.  They have enough firepower to overcome more than an occasional night off for Bryzgalov. 

    However, their defense in front of him had better improve, otherwise it won't matter much if he does up his game.  The likelihood that Chris Pronger never laces them up again increases with each passing day.  His absence and the free agent departure of Matt Carle leaves gaping holes in what was already a questionable unit.

    As for the Caps, they have the bigger problem because they're going to be relying more on their goalie to win nightly.  This team isn't going to outscore anyone anymore. 

    Although Semin was hardly known for his consistent effort, he was offensively gifted like few in the NHL.  His departure means Holtby will bear a heavier burden in Washington's wins and losses as opposed to Bryzgalov's role with Philly.

    Unfortunately for him, the Caps defensive corps is even more suspect than the Flyers' is.  Holtby should see plenty of nights where he's facing 35 shots. 

    Even if you take out all of those mitigating factors, I'd still say Washington has the bigger problem just based on experience.  Bryzgalov has been a star in this league.  Holtby has not. 

    The pressure of being the "man" may get to the Caps' young netminder, so that leads me to believe the Flyers enter 2012-13 in better shape in goal.