This exciting installment of Philadelphia Flyers hockey might well be entitled "What about Bob?"
"Bob" is a previously unknown 22-year-old goaltender from Novokuznetsk, Russia, whose real name is Sergei Bobrovsky. Undrafted, he was signed in the summer and, surprisingly, became the Flyers' opening-night starter when Michael Leighton got hurt - headline news in most NHL cities, but almost unnoticed among Flyers faithful.
Nothing about their goaltending causes Flyer fans concern anymore, given a decade of uncertainty and a series of unfortunate events in the crease.
It is remarkable that such a stable franchise that's always had the resources to build teams with championship aspirations has struggled so mightily to find competent goaltending for such a long time.
Ron Hextall was the last predictable, reliable starter the Flyers had and his career wrapped up in the late 90's. In the 10-plus years since, Philadelphia has had 19 different goalies. In three of those seasons, including the last one, they used five goaltenders and, on a couple of those occasions, the Flyers were 100-point teams that couldn't get over the top because of deficiencies in net. Last spring in the playoffs, the Flyers needed two goalies to get to the Stanley Cup final and neither had been the starter when the season began.
But give the Flyers credit for trying to solve the problem.
They've thrown money at it, like when they brought in John Vanbiesbrouck.
They've taken a path less worn. Remember the unusual style of Roman Cechmanek?
They've tried reclamations like Ray Emery and even brought some back for a second try, like Brian Boucher. But from Robert Esche to Martin Biron, Flyers goalies seem to start with promise, then they get hurt, fold in the post-season or don't hit their stride until they move on.
So last spring's bizarre scenario with waiver-claimed Leighton in the final or a kid named "Bob" starting this season seem the new normal in Philadelphia, where even the players can't answer the question, "Who's in goal for the Flyers?"
Amazing to think the team that had Bernie Parent, Pelle Lindbergh and Hextall can't seem to find anyone they like to stop the puck.
In The Spotlight
Undoubtedly, the Leafs will be accused of getting full of themselves, but fact is they weren't very good, had little energy in a loss to the Rangers and, for the first time this season, need a bounce-back game.
First-line centre Tyler Bozak had a bad night and spent most of the third period on the bench, but linemates Phil Kessel and Kris Versteeg weren't much better. That group, if coach Ron Wilson leaves them together, now faces a bigger challenge in Philadelphia, playing against Chris Pronger and Matt Carle.
The speed and unyielding forecheck that was so good early for the Leafs just wasn't there against the Rangers, so this game is an excellent early season measure of character.
How hard will the Leafs compete against a tough, chippy team that just lost at home for the third time in four games and should be miserable?
Given the game they've come off and the team they're meeting, we could learn quite a bit about this new Leaf team in a single night .
On The Hot Stove
Flyers stars Mike Richards and Jeff Carter haven't cranked it up. They are a combined minus-7 and Richards hasn't scored. They are alos a big part of the power play that has started 2 for 27. Pronger is just off knee surgery, the players barely know the new goalie and the coach won't play fan favorite Dan Carcillo, so the pressure is already building for the Eastern champs to bust out. Patience is not a Philadelphia virtue.
It's going to be up to Versteeg and Kessel to score goals, but a road game in Philadelphia, when the team needs a boost and bravery, is the reason Colby Armstrong got big money as a free agent. A big hit or a scrap or just some solid hard play is always needed to prevent a burial against a group that will still act like the old bullies at the first sniff they'll be allowed.
While many fans still love the shootout, there are a growing number of people within the NHL who are tiring of it - or perhaps, better put, think the shootout is happening too often. There were almost 200 last season and they've become far more important to a playoff spot than anyone could have guessed.
It's been suggested by some that going to 3-on-3 overtime would reduce the number of shootouts and there is evidence that could happen. B.C. and Alberta junior leagues both have 3-on-3 overtime and it decides a lot of games. In the BCHL this season, after 200 games, overtime breaks ties 65 per cent of the time. In the AJHL last season, teams played 960 games and only 30 of them ended without a decision.
In the NHL, only 39 per cent of tied games are decided in overtime. If that percentage climbed to 60 or above with 3-on-3 overtime, there would be half as many shootouts. Better for those who think there are too many and the scarcity might make the remaining shootouts more exciting.
So how does that relate to Saturday's game? Doesn't really, but imagine if the score is tied and overtime features Richards, Carter and Pronger against Kessel, Versteeg and Dion Phaneuf. That would be fun to watch and probably wouldn't last very long.
The teams are geographically close, but these numbers describe how far apart the Flyers and New Jersey Devils have been in defining their goaltending situation over the last decade:
1. Goalies who have started 20 games since 2000:
New Jersey - 2
Martin Broduer and Scott Clemmenson
Philadelphia - 8
Brian Boucher, Ray Emery, Michael Leighton, Martin Biron, Antero Nittymaki, Robert Esche, Jeff Hackett and Roman Cechmanek
2. Number of goalies who have started a playoff game since 2000
New Jersey - 1
Philadelphia - 8
(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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