It has always amazed me how quickly someone can be the toast of the Philadelphia sports scene and then be the guy who hits the back-burner in a matter of seconds.
That basically sums up the summer for Flyers starting goaltender Michael Leighton.
The Flyers signed Leighton a two-year contract extension back on June 30. Many believed that was the sign that Leighton would be given the starting job between the pipes. The job he earned.
Since the extension, multiple blogs, analysts and people who claim to know the ‘inside’ continue to think the Flyers are on the verge of signing a goaltender to move ahead of Leighton for the 2010-11 season.
How’s that working out for you? Not too well I see.
Evgeni Nabokov almost became a Flyer; however, his price tag was to rich for the Flyers blood. Marty Turco, the former Dallas Stars franchise goalie, basically turned down two offers that flew his way from Philadelphia. Dan Ellis was another sought after goalie who blew off the Flyers and ended up taking an offer in Tampa Bay.
All in all, the Flyers had their guy all along and built a defense in front of him to prove it. From the get go, I believed Leighton was the guy who would be the No. 1 netminder for the Flyers come October 7 in Pittsburgh.
Leighton commented on his confidence boost since the Flyers haven’t signed a top-notch goalie this summer.
“It definitely makes me feel good. I didn’t know what direction they were going in,” Leighton said. ”When they were looking to sign me, I think they were still unsure what they were going to do. Maybe they still aren’t sure, I don’t know. But if I start the season as the No. 1, that’s what I want. That’s my goal. I want to be a No. 1 goalie.
“I just have to go out and play the way I am capable of playing and perform. That’s what it comes down to.”
In 31 starts this past season, Leighton went 17-9-2 with a 2.83 goals against average and a .905 save percentage. In the playoffs, Leighton did what he became accustomed to - saving the season for the Flyers. He went 8-3 with a 2.46 GAA and a .916 save percentage and three shutouts. Not too shabby for guy not named Brodeur or Fleury.
Leighton, 29, took the Flyers on his proverbial head, and led them to their first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 1997. He returned to the Flyers lineup in Game 5 of the Bruins series to help rally the club back with four straight wins to make beat the Bruins in seven games.
Follow that with a complete annihilation of the Montreal Canadiens in a five-game romp, where Leighton looked almost unbeatable at times. Leighton’s play was as dominant, if not more, than any goalie in the NHL postseason at that time. Everything went right for Leighton throughout the comeback against Boston and the Montreal series win in five games.
Now, there is no way to sip the kool-aid on Leighton’s performance in the Stanley Cup Finals. You can’t do it. The only legitimate defense for Leighton, the defense in front of him, was simply outplayed and overmatched.
The main reason for the animosity towards Leighton is the final goal of the Flyers season. Yes, the Patrick Kane overtime killer that trickled right past Leighton. It was a shot that goes in once out of every 1 million tries. Unfortunately it had to occur against the Flyers and in front of their hometown crowd.
Ok, it was a terrible play. A play that will forever play out in the minds of every let Flyers fan who gave their every breath to that club. But, can everything Leighton did from December to June be boiled down to one bad goal? I think that’s terrible and unfortunate. In some ways ungrateful.
“Obviously, I want to play a lot of games. For me, you look at last year and we did so much, but there is always more. And I want to do more. I want to win a Stanley Cup. That’s my goal,” Leighton said. ”I want to help this team win as many games as I can. That’s the bottom line.”
Does Leighton think this current revamped Flyers team can make another run at Lord Stanley’s Cup?
“I think so. We struggled at times during the regular season with injuries and just being able to put things together, but we got it together at the right time. If we start the season with that togetherness and team mentality and carry that on through the season, we should be in a good position to start the playoffs. There is no reason why shouldn’t be able to do what we did last year.”
Leighton earned and deserves a full season’s opportunity to be this organizations No. 1 goaltender when October comes around. Especially, with the defense that now is in front of him.