After reaching the Eastern Conference Finals last season, the Flyers entered the 2008-09 season with high expectations. The team looks to improve upon last season’s sixth-place regular season finish, with the bulk of those hopes resting on the square shoulder pads of Martin Biron.
Biron finished last season as the team’s clear-cut number one goaltender, posting a 30-20-9 record with a 2.59 goals against average and a .918 save percentage. The Lac St. Charles, Quebec native also won the Toyota Cup last season, compiling the most points for being named a star of the game.
But from the start of the 2008-09 season, Biron looked shaky—at best.
Through his first four games of this season, Biron was winless at 0-3-1 as the Flyers limped out of the gate, losing their first six games. It looked as if the Flyers’ season might be over before it really began. Then the team slowly began climbing its way back up the Eastern Conference standings, led largely by improved play in goal from Biron.
The early struggles in goal cannot all be pinned on Biron. The Flyers began the season with three new defensemen—Ossi Vaananen, rookie Luca Sbisa, and Steve Eminger. The Flyers have since replaced Eminger with Matthew Carle and added big, physical Andrew Alberts, lessening the number of high-pressure situations seen by the 18-year-old Sbisa.
The new defensemen have gelled with the returning Flyers blue-liners, forming what is now one of the strongest defensive units in the NHL.
Pairing these defensive improvements with greater play in net has equaled much greater success for the Flyers, as they sit just four points out of first place in the Atlantic Division, holding four games in hand over the New York Rangers.
While Biron has been playing tremendous lately, posting an 8-1-3 record in his last 12 games, with a .255 GAA and a .915 save percentage, fellow netminder Antero Nittymaki has also been playing very well. In fact, Nitty’s save percentage and goals-against are both better than Biron’s.
So who is the Flyers’ goaltender of the future?
Age favors Nittymaki, who is three years younger than Biron. Nittymaki also is still under contract with the Flyers for the 2009-10 season, while Biron will be a free agent after this year.
However, Biron has proven he can be the day-in, day-out goaltender over the course of the season. He has been healthy his whole career and is not prone to long stretches of subpar play. Nittymaki, on the other hand, has had problems with an injured hip—never good for a goaltender—and hasn’t been a consistent starting goaltender in the NHL.
Biron is also 6-1-2 against Atlantic Division foes this season, his lone regulation loss coming in the season opener against the Rangers.
Barring unforeseen circumstances, Martin Biron is likely the Philadelphia Flyers' goaltender of the future. But so is Antero Nittymaki. The Flyers will likely make every attempt to bring back Biron for next season and will continue to pair him with Nittymaki.
Having two solid goalies is never a bad thing, and from year to year I think there will be a gradual transition from Biron starting the majority of the games to more of a 50/50 split.
The Flyers have a number of goaltending prospects—Jeremy Duschene, currently playing with the Phantoms, Jakub Kovar of the OHL, and 2008 third round choice Jacob Deserres. All are at least another couple seasons away from the NHL, so don’t be surprised to see both Biron and Nittymaki in orange and black for at least a few more years.
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