PHILADELPHIA - The pressing issue at hand no longer revolves around who will start games in goal for the wobbling Philadelphia Flyers.
It’s who will finish them.
Therein lies the biggest problem for this perplexing franchise, one that has festered within the Flyers organization for more than three decades.
In two of the five games to date in this best-of-seven first-round series between the Flyers and the upstart Buffalo Sabres, Philly coach Peter Laviolette has been forced to yank the guy who was between the pipes for the opening faceoff. Moreover, both hooks came at the raucous Wells Fargo Center, leaving the throng of leather-lunged, orange-clad dissidents asking the same question that has lingered since the days of Bernie Parent.
“When are we going to get a real ($#@*&%!) goalie?!”
Admittedly, there have been four or five guys the fans could pin their hopes on over the past 37 years. Parent. Wayne Stephenson. The late Pelle Lindbergh. Ron Hextall.
After that, well, the list is not pretty.
Roman Cechmanek. Bob Froese. Garth Snow. Marty Biron. Mark LaForest. Jeff Hackett. Rick St. Croix. Tommy Soderstrom. Wendell Young. Ken Wregget. Ray Emery.
Pete Peeters had some fine seasons, but never could bring the franchise that elusive third Stanley Cup. And John Vanbiesbrouck? By going on the cheap to sign him in 1998 rather than spend more to land Curtis Joseph, it was just another example of Flyers management taking an unsuccessful shortcut to fill the goaltending position.
Curiously, the Flyers spare no expense to fill other roster spot with star power. Through trades or free agency, big names such as Peter Forsberg, Eric Lindros. Paul Coffey, Jeremy Roenick, Danny Briere, Chris Pronger and Rob Brind’Amour all took turned tugging on that traditional orange black and white jersey.
Which brings us to the 2011 edition of the Flyers, a team that is on the brink of being eliminated from the playoffs with a loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday afternoon at the HSBC Arena.
Michael Leighton? Brian Boucher? Sergei Bobrovsky? Pick a goalie ... any goalie.
Laviolette was his usual non-committal self with the media on Saturday, refusing to reveal who would get the call for Game 6.
He did indicate that regular season performance would not go into the decision, perhaps a hint that Leighton could get the nod. Leighton, after all, played just one game for the Flyers during the 2010-11 campaign due to back issues.
True, Leighton did play the bulk of games during the Flyers run to the Stanley Cup final a year ago. But how many times did he snatch victory from the jaws of defeat? Was it not more a case of just being solid and keeping his talented team in games?
Boucher, meanwhile, was brutal in the 4-3 overtime loss in Game 5, allowing a bad angle goal to Tyler Ennis, then having a Thomas Vanek shot from behind the goal line bounce in off him. After surrendering a third, he was gone.
Said Boucher: “The second one, aside from maybe coming out and playing the puck before that, I don’t know if I could have done anything differently. I mean, the guy banked it off me ...”
Is he serious? Vanek was almost behind the net, and Boucher doesn’t know what he could have done differently?
How about stopping the puck? There’s a novel idea.
Based on his silly logic alone, Boucher should not start.
And what of Bobrovsky? The Flyers have turned Philly Bob into Silent Bob. After being pulled early in Game 2, he doesn’t even dress for games anymore. This is the way you treat a guy you consider to be your goalie of the future?
Down 3-2 in games, the Flyers can still win this series. Just 12 months ago, they came back from a 3-0 deficit to take their second-round series against the Boston Bruins 4-3.
But they have no chance to advance this time around if the goalie who ends games for them isn’t the guy who started.