Let’s face it folks, as good as the Philadelphia Flyers netminder Michael Leighton has been thus far in the playoffs (second overall in save percentage, .918, first overall in goals against average, 2.34 and first overall in shutouts with three), he has struggled mighily against the Blackhawks.
Collectively, Leighton has struggled throughout the Stanley Cup Finals, psoting some very disturbing numbers of 4.02 goals against average and pathetic .867 save percentage, not cool!
Upon further review, Leighton has been very bad on the road (0-2) and very good at home in Philadelphia at the Wachovia center. With the benefit of the home crowd behind him, Leighton has a record of 2-0 against the Blackhawks, giving up just five goals on 61 shots, numbers that are good enough for the Flyers to win, which, to date, they have.
That said, given Leighton’s game five performance, in which he allowed three goals on 13 shots in 20 minutes of play, nobody could blame Flyers head coach Peter Laviollette if he chooses to go with veteran netminder Brian Boucher instead of the suddenly struggling Leighton.
Lest Flyers fans forget, Boucher struggled mightily at home against the Boston Bruins, giving up seven goals on 56 shots in two games, emerging with a paltry .889 and .842 save percentage, respectively.
Boucher also had a mediocre game against the New Jersey Devils at the Wachovia Center, allowing two goals on 19 shots, good enough for the win, but emerging with a .895 save percentage.
The point is, Leighton has been better on home ice and, for that reason, despite his game five struggles, he should be given the nod as the Flyers starter in game six.
The body of Leighton’s work, while not spectacular, has been very good. His 8-2 record serves notice to Flyers fans everywhere that he has played well throughout the playoffs and, as his numbers reveal, he has earned the right to play in game six.
At the end of the day you have to ask yourself, which goaltender would you rather have in between the pipes in the biggest game of the season? Brian Boucher, who has looked equally shaky in relief of Leighton and is suspected to not be at 100 percent, or Leighton, who, as I outlined earlier, has played well at home.
One thing I observed about Leighton when I interviewed him at the Winter Classic in Boston and throughout his performances in the Stanley Cup Playoffs was/is his calm demeanor. Nothing seems to shake the 29 year old; nothing seems to get him off his game.
Throughout the series against Chicago, Leighton has had to put up with the likes of Dustin Byfuglien and other Blackhawk players crashing the net and setting up camp in his crease area, trying to disturb his flow and psyche.
Leighton has not only been cool under pressure, he has also exhibited a willingness to fight back with a slash to an opponents shins and, for the most part, has done a great job of standing his ground and taking ownership of his crease.
It’s not that Boucher has demonstrated anything different, I just think Leighton, who is a big goaltender at 6’3 and 186 pounds, is more suited to battle with the Hawks, who should be all over Leighton like white on rice in game six.
Could Laviollette (who is yet to let the media know which goaltender will start in game six) elect to go with Boucher? Anything is possible. That said, it says here Leighton has earned the right to see this series through and, therefore, should start game six.
As the saying goes, "Live by the sword, die by the sword"…only time will tell if the Flyers and Leighton will live to fight another day; Leighton gives the Flyers the best chance of doing just that.
Until next time,