Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Unspoken: Philly Blew It

Every year this happens. A team wins the Cup and we go into some kind of praise-amplification cycle, the usual result of which is a conclusion that all future Cups will be won as this latest one was.

It's all fine and good as long as it remains theory, that is until you go out and overpay Rob Scuderi.

As we enjoy the interminable season finally coming to an end, I offer this thought. Perhaps Chicago might not have won the Cup had their opposition offered a credible goaltending option.

Last night was only one example, but again Leighton was shaky. Two of the goals allowed, including the OT Stanley Cup Winner, were minor league stuff.

When in recent memory can you remember a Stanley Cup finalist putting forward a serious bid with a goalie that was pulled twice, allowed 3.96 goals a game and saved less than 88% of shots. He played well in one win, but that hardly balances two of his losses in which he allowed about 25% of shots to go in.

To sum up, Michael leighton was sub-par and by letting in some of the goals he did, effectively cut the Flyers chances off at the knees.

Still, I choose not to entitle the piece with Michael Leighton's name, as this was all to be expected. Miraculaous shut out run aside, Leighton is a player with this kind of checkered history. A borderline NHLer with up and down numbers. It shouldn't have surprised anyone that his miracle streak was just that, a miracle streak.

Really Philadelphia management is to blame.

It starts as these things usually do with drafting. Since they drafted Roman Cechmanek in 2000 (their last credible goalie graduate), the Flyers have selected 15 goalies in all. All told from those 15, they have received 2 NHL games of sub 0.800 goaltending. Not pretty. The lessons they learned in the late 1990s when their last thrust into contention was on were clearly unlearned, as they constantly have goaltending further down the list than nearly everything else. Though they've sprung for two third round goalie choices in the past two seasons, prior to that their reliance on free agency meant they had little time for goalies before round 5.

Speaking of free agency, they often get distracted there too. I'm not necessarily saying that goalies can be plucked out of thin air in July, but it might be easier if the kitty isn't always already spent to find someone adequate.

Ray Emery was a great example of Philly's approach to goaltending on the cheap. Always willing to spring big money for the next bully in line, they frequently find themselves looking for the bargain basement option come September. Esche, Biron, Boucher, Emery, leighton, not exactly a crew that sends shivers down the spine of shooters.

And then there are trades. Never mind that Philly might have turned down a great bargain in December with the potential Halak deal. That bears no meaning next to the fact that they had built a team to win in the present with several excellent young and middle age stars ready to shine, yet failed to trade a single piece of their depth when Ray Emery first showed himself to be missing a step and then underwent fairly major surgery before the trade deadline.

It's fair to say that Philly's management didn't react because they never thought this possible, even with a goaltender. Fine. But making the playoffs and winning the Cup were clearly in the plans when they signed all their forwards to long-term millions and then traded the future couple of first rounders for Pronger. Philly were a team built for now, or thereabouts. So why leave playoff qualification, and ultimately playoff success in the court of a gamble like Boucher? Or Leighton?

In my mind, it's quite a big mistake. And now, quite a big opportunity missed..

Who should be more aggrieved?

I'm as happy as anyone to see Mike Richards close to tears. He must feel pretty aggrieved by management's ponderous approach to shoring the back end. Peter Laviolette too. He coached a storm to get his team as far as it did, yet being cuffed by the Leighton/Boucher options must have been hard. Finally, Chris Pronger, who still dominant might wonder how many more Cup runs he can coax out of himself.

Yet, as unhappy as those should be, could it be that Canadiens fans and perhaps Bruins fans even more so should be cursing their luck.

Coming into the Bruins game in relief, Michael Leighton was a 0.902 career goalie with no NHL playoff experience. In the 2.5 games he played vs. Boston to rescue the Flyers from 3-1, he laid down a shutout to end the series with a 0.943 save % and 1.54 GAA. Against Montreal, it was 3 more shutouts en route to a 0.950 save % and a 1.41 GAA.

Had he played as he did in the final, Boston would have likely scored 5 more goals in 2.5 games and Montreal was owed 10 more. Had he played at his career NHL rate, Boston would have expected 3 more goals and Montreal a further 7.

That's not to say both teams didn't have a part in Leighton's supremacy, or that Philly's D didn't also. Merely to say that we all knew one day Leighton wouldn't be making some of the saves he seemed to be able to make against both Bruins and Habs, and we knew we'd feel a little bit unlucky to have faced him at the one time in his career he looked a genuine starter.

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