When Michael Leighton had trouble getting off the ice during the loss to the Predators, and the words "high ankle sprain" came across the wireless, the doom and gloom began. We all know how tough that injury can be to come back from, and today the team confirmed that Leighton will be on the shelf for a long time—8 to 10 weeks...
Absolutely deflating news for the Flyers, who can't afford to go any further off course if they want to make the playoffs this season.
With their original starting goalie already out for the season, the Flyers have been fortunate to have an unpredictably brilliant run from a goalie they claimed off waivers in Leighton. Now they'll need to go back to their original backup plan, Brian Boucher, who was signed in the off-season to swing the door behind Ray Emery.
From the moment he signed, Emery was a question mark for a variety of reasons unrelated to injury. In part due to salary cap constraints, a higher-priced backup wasn't an option, and as usual, the goaltending situation was an area of uncertainty for the Flyers. But money wasn't the only reason Paul Holmgren put his faith in Boosh.
As we've discussed here before, Boucher started 20 games for the Sharks last season, many of which were while regular starter Evgeni Nabokov was out with an injury. He started eight games from February 26 to March 17, and seven games from November 8 to 22. Over the course of last season, Boosh posted 12 wins, a 2.18 GAA, a .917 save percentage, and two shutouts. Not bad...
Now, the Flyers aren't going to be mistaken the Sharks of last season. San Jose went on to win the President's Trophy with 117 points, whereas the Flyers have underwhelmed considerably in '09-'10. But the Sharks' success and "regular season championship" wouldn't have happened without solid play from Boucher, as well as the other key to great goaltending—excellent team defense. Play solidly in front of Boosh, and the team can stay at least on the course they've been on all season.
Of course we can't look for all the answers on Boucher in last season's performances alone, but the truth is, it's hard to glean much from what he's done for the Flyers recently. We really don't know how effective he'll be as the starter because he hasn't played much in 2010, with only four appearances since December 21, none of which were starts. What we have seen of him lately has been in mop-up duty, on nights when the team isn't playing well in front of whichever guy has the misfortune of wearing the pads.
The course of this season isn't on Boucher's shoulders though—it's on that of the team in front of him. At no point has this roster been built to be carried by the guy in the mask. It's time for the skaters to be the ones standing on their heads for a while, adding to their above-average scoring while not giving up too many breaks the other way. They've shown that they're capable of being that team, just not consistently.
Am I being overly optimistic? Depends on how you read that last sentence.
As for Leighton, it's hard not to feel terrible for him. He has resurrected his career since the Flyers claimed him, and who knows where his season was headed. At times, it felt just as likely he could carry them deep in the playoffs as it did that he would revert to the form we originally expected from him. Who knows what's next for the goalie who lives in a hotel, but I think we'll see more of him in Orange & Black beyond this season.
Photo by John Russell, NHLI via Getty Images.