It’s getting to be a nasty habit: Contending teams are playing their backup goaltenders in games against the Flyers, or at least playing their 1-B guys.
With Pekka Rinne watching, backup Juuse Saros turned in a 32-save shutout in Nashville on Jan. 1. Jordan Binnington’s first-ever start came against them at the Wells Fargo Center in a 3-0 St. Louis win Jan. 7. There’s also Dallas No. 2 Anton Khudobin and 22-year-old Devils rookie Mackenzie Blackwood.
If a team is facing the Flyers as part of a back-to-back, there’s a good chance the Flyers will see the goaltender with the lesser resume.
Form should hold true Saturday night in Montreal. Antti Niemi is expected to start instead of perennial All-Star Carey Price, who started Friday against Columbus. The Blue Jackets are in the playoff mix, as are the surprising Habs, and it is clear where Canadiens coach Claude Julien is casting his die.
In other sports, there might be talk of being disrespected. Not in hockey, and not for a team that is too busy with self-improvement.
“We’re in the place we are in right now, so you have to take it for what it is,” said Scott Laughton. “But I don’t think you’re [ticked] off or anything. You just want to score on him like any other guy.”
Said interim coach Scott Gordon: “Those guys have played pretty well, and not just against us. … There haven’t been many easy nights.”
“We’re looking for the team that’s gone through seven goalies" (like the Flyers have).
Niemi has won four of his last five starts for the Habs, who entered Friday night’s action as the top wild-card seed in the Eastern Conference. Only one of those wins have come against a team currently inside the postseason bubble (Dallas).
“No disrespect to Niemi, he’s playing great,” Sean Couturier said. "But when you have a chance to have Price on the bench, you’ll take it. He’s pretty good.
“We put ourselves in this situation that we don’t want to be in. We’re just focused on trying to grow as a team, win some hockey games. You never know what can happen. We can go on a streak here and next thing you know we’re right back in the hunt. This team won’t quit until it’s done.”
One exception to the Flyers' indifference to facing Montreal is Carter Hart. The 20-year-old grew up modeling his game after that of Price, whose image adorns the wall of his bedroom in the Edmonton suburb of Sherwood Park. He seemed disappointed when he was told Friday that Price is expected to get the night off. But as is the case when he allows a goal, he quickly regrouped.
"Last month when I played against Nashville in my second game, I was a little bit nervous," he said. "They have some good players on the team, superstars, and guys I looked up to growing up – like Rinne. But at the end of the day, I’m in the same league now as those guys and they’re just like you and me. They’re human and they’ll bleed when you cut them. Obviously, it’ll be pretty cool to see Carey Price in person. But at the same time, I still have a job to do.”
It’s not just fans and media who are perplexed by what’s happening in the case of Dale Weise. His teammates don’t quite get it, either. Weise cleared waivers this week but was not assigned to the AHL Phantoms, has not practiced with the team, and does not attend games in street clothes. “I’m not sure what’s going to happen after the break,” Gordon said. “I think he’s still here. I think he might be skating on his own. I’m not sure, to be honest with you."