They aren’t just a pretty mask.
Goaltenders in the NHL playoffs play the most pivotal roles in the game. The Dance showcases plenty of one goal decisions – one false move by a netminder or one brilliant snap of the glove can deliver a crushing defeat or miraculous win for any team on any night.
The arch nemesis of the playoff netminder.
In the spirit of the most mentally focused of positions, the focus of today’s gameday morning prep sets in on the eyes that glare out from behind the steely caged mask.
In today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, there are a couple stories dissecting the heavy matter that the Flyers are stuck with – who to start in net, Bobrovsky or Boucher? It’s a serious problem. The right choice could grab them the series lead, the wrong choice could sent them spiraling towards a terrible defeat and the need to win 3 out of the remaining 4 games in order to move on.
From Frank Seravalli:
For Laviolette, tonight’s decision is about much more than just a Game 3 starter. In his mind, Laviolette is juggling the fragile mind of a talented 22-year-old rookie who lasted just 12 minutes and 30 seconds in his second-ever start in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Laviolette is balancing that against a steady veteran goaltender in Boucher who not only came in and settled the game down – giving the Flyers a “calming influence,” as more than a few players said in the locker room after the game – and allowed just one goal in the final 47 helter-skelter minutes of play.
Just how has “Bob” fared after getting the yank in a game? Again, from Seravalli:
Before Saturday, Bobrovsky had been pulled six times from a start – and his record in the following six starts is just 3-2-1. Since overtime losses count just as much as losses in the playoffs, we’ll call that 3-3:
1. Nov. 18 vs. Tampa Bay: 4 GA, 11 shots, 20 min, 8-7 L
Next start: Nov. 24 at Minnesota: 1 GA, 6-1 W
2. Dec. 20 vs. Florida: 4 GA, 22 shots, 33 min, 5-0 L
Next start: Dec. 31 at Anaheim: 5 GA, 5-2 L
3. Feb. 1 at Tampa Bay: 3 GA, 6 shots, 20 min, 4-0 L
Next start: Feb. 3 vs. Nashville: 2 GA, 3-2 W
4. March 6 at NY Rangers: 3 GA, 18 shots, 33 min, 7-0 L
Next start: March 8 vs. Edmonton: 1 GA, 4-1 W
5. March 22 vs. Washington: 3 GA, 9 shots, 21 min, 5-4 SOL
Next start: March 24 vs. Pittsburgh: 1 GA, 2-1 SOL
6. April 9 vs. NY Islanders: 3 GA, 10 shots, 12 min, 7-4 W
Next start: April 14, Game 1 vs. Buffalo: 1 GA, 1-0 L
7. April 16, Game 2 vs. Buffalo: 3 GA, 7 shots, 13 min, 5-4 W
So, what to do? Bobrovsky can make the acrobatic saves Boucher cannot. But Bobrovsky, more often than not, lets in the goals Boucher does not.
Laviolette’s head is likely saying Boucher. But his heart is probably pointing to Bobrovsky. Somewhere in the back of each one of those, deep in the subconscious, is Leighton. And Laviolette has always coached with his gut.
Meanwhile, Justin Goldman of “The Goalie Guild” (which has quickly become one of my favorite hockey websites) has been enlisted by the NHL to analyze the goaltending position for their official website.
He is joined by fellow goalie aficionado Ken Baker. For your convenience, here is their breakdown on the goaltending in the Flyers/Sabres opening round series:
Justin Goldman chooses Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres:
When handicapping Ryan Miller
‘s odds against the Flyers, there are very few succulent statistics on which I can feast.
He only posted a .915 save percentage in 66 games this season and went 2-2 against the Flyers with a 3.60 goals-against average. He also suffered a few curious injuries, including a recent one wrapped in a bit of a riddle.But Miller knows what it takes to carry an entire team, city and country on his shoulders. His play in the 2010 Winter Olympics proved he’s capable of coming up big in the biggest moments imaginable. It’s a valuable experience he’ll certainly draw upon as he prepares for what is sure to be a grueling and potentially high-scoring series.Technically speaking, Miller is one of the finest butterfly goaltenders in the world. His footwork is as sharp and precise as a diamond-tipped knife. He understands the intricate points of positioning, including rebound placement, reading odd-man rushes and killing penalties. His gloves are active, lightning-quick and one of his most established strengths.We both know that goaltending, especially in the playoffs, is 90 percent mental. So when it comes to preparing the mind for a must-win situation, nobody gets “in the zone” better than Miller. His pre-game routine is a benchmark for goalies everywhere, so you can’t deny the fact that he’s a true mental warrior. To me, he’s pure goaltending Zen.
Like a durable Chevy engine, the American-born Miller is also tried, tested and true. He has experienced tough playoff losses and suffered through the excruciating pain of a failed poke check on Sidney Crosbyin a gold-medal game. Yet through it all, he has faced the press and the pundits with plenty of poise.
As Buffalo’s responsible, reliable and even-keeled leader, Miller won’t collapse after a bad goal or an unfortunate bounce.
I also expect Miller to make smarter decisions in key moments. Instead of lunging for a poke check, he’ll be more patient. Instead of making a risky pass through the slot, he’ll use the boards. Instead of kicking out a rebound on an extended shift, he’ll absorb the puck and get a whistle.
Ultimately, a goalie of Miller’s pedigree has to dig in the trenches before he can win the war. At age 30, his past has been plenty muddied by big mistakes in monumental games. But his chance to transform those tough losses into big wins is now or never. He won’t make the same mistakes twice.
Trying to argue that Sergei Bobrovksy is the better goalie in the Flyers-Sabres matchup would be like arguing I’m better looking than Brad Pitt. In other words, I’m not even gonna go there.But what I can say with a straight face is this: Bobrovsky’s chances of stealing the series from Miller’s clutches aren’t as bleak as you might think at first glance.Even though Bobrovsky probably would be the first to admit (in a thick Russian accent, of course) that his play dropped off in his Pronger-deprived second half of the regular season, the fact remains that, with a 28-13-8 record and .915 save percentage, the rookie more than got the job done. And if he can dig deep and rediscover some of that brilliance — and find that certain Hall of Fame d-man whose name rhymes with “wronger” — from earlier in the season, Bob-sky could prove a frustrating foil for some of Buffalo’s top guns.But in order to pull this off, Bobrovsky (at 22 the youngest starting goalie in the playoffs) will have to show off his strengths:
• An ability to scramble as effectively as an egg in a $200 frying pan, meaning he finds a way to stop impossible pucks in chaotic situations
• An athleticism that leaves him never out of a play
• His net-clogging positioning far atop the paint on straight-on shots
But he must also pray Buffalo doesn’t expose his flaws:
• Pucks that pinch through his five hole, armpits and anywhere else his body should have been
• Repeated trouble finding the rubber in traffic and body screens
• Sloppy post coverage on wraparounds and walk-ins from the corner
• Rebounds that are juicier than a perfectly fried Buffalo Wing
Everyone knows that if Bobrovsky falters early, Brian Boucher and/or the just called-up Michael Leighton will be put in faster than hometown fans can say “Philly-hasn’t-had-a-legit-goalie-since-Hextall.” (So, like, three seconds.)
But if Bobrovsky rises to the occasion and surprises the goaltending intelligentsia and actually beats Buffalo, it might be mostly due to him having one thing Miller doesn’t: No injury.
So there it is. We are all now officially goaltending experts, at least until this series is over. Meanwhile, we’ll leave the decision on whether to go with Bobrovsky or Boucher up to the Flyers’ brass.
It’s decisions like that which make me very happy to be just a fan, planted comfortably on my old Aud Seat on gameday – the only series defining decisions that I need to sweat over are which lucky jersey to wear, or which brand of beer tastes luckier.
Yuengling or Honey Brown?
Time to head to the store and channel my inner Ryan Miller.