It is just before the midway point of the 2008-09 NHL season. It is about this time of year that we begin to see which teams have the right stuff to go deep into the playoffs and which will sink into the basement.
The Philadelphia Flyers seemed to have not missed a beat.
When you look back at what propelled the orange-and-black into the Eastern Conference Finals, your eyes might meet a pair that will turn you to stone. Meet Martin Biron.
Biron was rock solid in last year's postseason. Some say that he single-handedly won the Semifinals series against the Montreal Canadiens. That success has carried over into the 08-09 regular season. Biron is 11-7-4 so far this year. Those numbers aren't going to put him in a Vezina race with the likes of Evgeni Nabokov, but they will give his team a chance to win every night.
Recently, Marty was been sidelined with the flu which has provided Antero Niittymaki the opportunity to start a chunk of games. Niitty has been lights-out this season, going 8-2-3 including a 47-save performance against the Washington Capitals on December 20th, in which he only gave up one goal.
Niittymaki's strong play has raised the question of who is the real number-one man in the crease for the Flyers. Make no mistake about it, it is Biron's job to lose. You can base the decision on numbers alone and say that Biron is the guy since he is making 3.5mil when compared to Niittymaki's 1.4 but there is more to it than that.
The time where a team needs their goalie the most is in the playoffs. Without a goalie, you go nowhere. Biron was constantly under scrutiny as to whether he had what it took to finally be a No. 1 goalie in the NHL.
After the 2007-08 playoffs, more specifically the series against the Habs, those critics have been silent. Watching the way he played was nothing short of spectacular.
Having two quality goaltenders bodes very well for the Flyers in the event that one gets hurt. From this point on, the gameplan should be to not overplay Marty so that he is healthy and fresh come playoff time. Look for Niittymaki to get a good number of starts for a backup, especially against Atlanta, who he has never lost to.