Departures: Ray Emery
Arrivals: Sergei Bobrovsky
Well that’s the million-dollar question…
Every year, fans, media and the entire hockey world ask, “Do the Flyers have the goaltending it takes to challenge for a Stanley Cup?” The team hasn’t had a franchise goaltender since Ron Hextall. Before that, you’d have to go all the way back to Bernie Parent to find a superstar goaltender who had the talent to lead a team to a championship. But for once, the Flyers rode a stallion to the Stanley Cup final, as the Leighton-Boucher duo helped bring the team to their first final appearance since 1997.
The good? Leighton was second to Jaroslav Halak with a .916 save percentage in the playoffs and led the league with a 2.46 goals against average. Boucher was sixth with .909 and second with 2.47. So, the two-headed monster indeed provided great goaltending.
The bad? During the regular season, Leighton was 33rd in the league with a .905 save percentage. Boucher was 43rd with .899, while Ray Emery had the same statistic as Leighton. One can argue that Boucher’s incredible performance in the shootout against the Rangers at the end of the season was the epitome of great goaltending. But another could argue that it was one of the only bright points of the Flyers’ goaltending throughout the season.
Will the Flyers see Goaltending 1.0 or Goaltending 2.0 this year as they try to defend their Eastern Conference title?
Watch out for…
Johan Backlund. Though he only played two-thirds of one game in the NHL before falling to injury, he looked good. His positioning was superb, he showed great speed and an acute sense for the game, including his angles and anticipating the shot and the pass. In that one game with the Flyers, Backlund posted a .917 save percentage. If Leighton and/or Boucher go down, look for Backlund to step it up when the spotlight is shining on him.
Also look out for Sergei Bobrovsky. He had a dominating preseason, but because of his inexperience with the North American game, he most likely will stay in Adirondack for the remainder of the season. Since Boucher’s contract runs out at the end of the season, though, look for him to be in the NHL in 2011-12.
What’s the outlook?
Not too good. Though I’d like to believe, along with the rest of Flyers’ Nation, that the team’s backstoppers have all the talent needed to bring the Orange and Black back to the brink of a Stanley Cup, it seems crazy to believe it. Yes, Leighton and Boucher had great stats during the playoffs, but when you watch the tape again, notice the number of difficult shots each goaltender had to face—not many. The defense contributed more to the statistics than the goaltenders themselves. Of course, the defense could again keep the Wells Fargo Center open until June. But just ask Patrick Kane—eventually a poor goaltender will be shown up. Specifically when it matters the most.
Hockey Sense: B-
Game-saving ability: B-
Prediction: Lose in Eastern Conference Final
Alan Bass is a writer for The Hockey News and THN.com. In addition to writing for Inside Hockey and Pro Hockey News, he has also worked for the Philadelphia Flyers. He is the General Manager of the Muhlenberg College hockey team as well. You can contact him at BergHockey24@gmail.com.