April 19, 2012
Flyers still searching for saviour in goal
By MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI AGENCY
PHILADELPHIA - Putting on that orange Flyers jersey seems to have the same effect on a goaltender as kryptonite had on Superman.
For the Man of Steel, kryptonite stripped him of his super powers.
For NHL goalies, that fabled Philly logo strips them of their ability to stop the puck.
At least that's the way it seems at times here in Flyer-crazed Philly, where the stunned throng at the Wells-Fargo Center watched Sidney Crosby and Co. put up a touchdown and field goal on Ilya Bryzgalov and Sergei Bobrovsky in a 10-3 Pittsburgh thrashing of the Flyers Wednesday.
Yes, the Flyers are still in the driver's seat in this heated best-of-seven first-round series, holding a 3-1 lead heading into Game 5 Thursday in Pittsburgh.
But that has not stopped paranoia from sweeping through the loyal Flyers faithful, who have seen far too many collapses between the pipes in the past.
And that uncomfortable feeling certainly escalated Thursday when the public learned that Bryzgalov had left the ice at practice early. If that wasn't enough to sweat over, then came the info that Michael Leighton was facing shots at the Flyers practice facility in Vorhees, N.J.
A year ago, this was the same Michael Leighton who was part of the Flyers' three-headed monster in goal, a trio that also included Bobrovsky and Brian Boucher. By the time Philly was punted out of the playoffs by the eventual Stanley Cup-champion Boston Bruins in the second round, coach Peter Laviolette's arms were tired from constantly giving his starting goalie the hook, whomever that might have been on any particular day.
NBC Philadelphia reported Thursday that Bryzgalov has a hip injury and will be a game-time decision for Game 5. Not so long ago, he also had a chipped bone in his right foot and has struggled in his six starts since returning from that ailment, posting an .855 save percentage in that time.
If Bryzgalov can't go, who's next? Bobrovsky? Leighton? Didn't we see this merry-go-round a year ago when things got so bad Boucher referred to the Flyers goalies (including himself) as the Three Stooges.
This same issue seems to come up every year. Hence the reason this column seems to be written every year.
Twelve months ago, we highlighted the seemingly endless list of Flyers goaltenders who had stumbled and bumbled in their failed efforts to become the next Bernie Parent or Ron Hextall for Philly.
Did you forget them already? Ok, here's a reminder. Again. Try these names on for size.
Roman Cechmanek. Bob Froese. Garth Snow. Marty Biron. Mark LaForest. Jeff Hackett. Rick St. Croix. Tommy Soderstrom. Wendell Young. Ken Wregget. Ray Emery. There are others but we'd quickly run out of space if we listed them all.
Is Bryzgalov the next guy to put his name on this dubious list?
Bryzgalov was handed a nine-year, $51 million contract last summer after team chairman Ed Snider vowed that the franchise would never slog through such goaltending issues again. While some in Philly claim the Flyers were searching for ways to get Mike Richards and Jeff Carter out of town, there is no doubt that GM Paul Holmgren needed to dump their respective salaries in order to squeeze Bryzgalov's deal under the cap.
Behind closed doors, Snider and Holgren must be tearing their hair out, fretting that history might be repeating themselves.
For what it's worth, Claude Giroux, at least in public, has put his full support behind Bryzgalov. Then again, what else is he going to say?
"I'm not worried about Bryz," Giroux claimed. "He knows what he's got to do. He's a lead goaltender, and we've got to do a better job in front of him.
"He'll be our best player in Game 5."
If he plays, he had better.
Or, suddenly, a series that the Flyers once seemed to have in the palm of their clenched fists will slip away even more.
The Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers have set a record for most goals scored by two teams through the first four games of a playoff series, with 45.
Brutal goaltending has played a huge role in that.
Consider the numbers:
Shots Against, Goals Against, Goals Against, Average Save Percentage
Ilya Bryzgalov (Flyers) 109 17 4.95 .844
Marc Andre Fleury (Pens) 109 20 5.43 .817
Sergei Bobrovsky (Flyers) 18 5 8.11 .722
Brent Johnson (Pens) 6 2 6 .667