With Michael Leighton out to begin the season with a bad back, it was evident that the Flyers were going to hand the goaltending reigns over to one Brian Boucher. This, of course, is the same Brian Boucher who spelled an injured Leighton last year against the Devils, and ultimately led the team past the Boston Bruins to the Eastern Conference Finals. Then, a funny thing happened this preseason. A little known rookie from the former USSR came to camp with little fan fare and immediatelyplayed lights out.
Sergei Bobrovsky forced his way onto this roster in part due to stellar performances against the Minnesota Wild and the New York Islanders; not to mention his phenomenal, and necessary, nickname, "Bob." Surprisingly, Bob got the start in the opener against the putrid Pittsburgh Penguins in front of a national audience at their new, state of the art CONSOL Energy Center. He promptly shut them down. He made some good saves, but more importantly, he made the routine ones. He was able to do the same to the Colorado Avalanche five days later for the win in the home opener. The fact that he was able to shine in early, relative pressure situations showed that he had the potential to be the guy.
Could this be? Another Flyers goalie controversy? I, for one, say "no." First and foremost, as a lifelong Flyers fan, I have seen the organization trot out nameslike Tommy Soderstrom, Sean Burke, and, of course, Roman Cechmanek to try and bring home the team's first Stanley Cup since 1975. Put it this way, I have seen a lot of slop goalies playing behind great teams.
Brian Boucher is a serviceable backup, a guy who has shown flashes of brilliance, but ultimately you know what you’ re going to get from him. He will be a hot and cold goalie who will leave the team in contention for Leighton when he returns from injury. You do not, however, know what you are getting from the 22 year old rookie- and I look at that as a positive.
What if Bob plays so well that Michael Leighton is forced to be his backup? Didn’ t Leighton do that to Boucher last year? Didn’ t Boucher perform the same act to John Vanbiesbrouck in 2000? Two games do not make a career (not to mention getting blown out by those same Penguins in his third game); but nevertheless, it was a promising start for Bob. Remember, the Flyers have a history of going with a rookie goaltender and watching him flourish (albeit ages ago). I seem to recall a fellow Eastern European goalie named Pelle Lindbergh come out of nowhere in the 1983-84 season and win the Vezina Trophy the following year. I also remember Ron Hextall bursting onto the scene in 1986-1987 and leading the team to within one win of hoisting Lord Stanley’ s Cup.
I am not comparing Bobrovsky to either of those Flyers all timers; but I am saying that the prospect of riding him until Leighton returns is enticing. With the team in front of him, Bob will not have to be spectacular. The defense is arguably the best in the EasternConference, so he shouldn’ t have to see an abundance of shots night in and night out. If he shines, then we have our golden ticket. If he is not up to par, then it is Leighton’ s team upon his return. What do they have to lose?