Flyers goaltending conundrum
To change or not to change.
CHICAGO -- This is not 1997 -- let us begin there. This is not the Stanley Cup Final from back then, when Flyers coach Terry Murray changed goaltenders, from Ron Hextall to Garth Snow, after Game 1 against the Detroit Red Wings, and then changed back to Hextall after Game 2. After Game 3, Murray made the infamous remark about his team being caught up in a "choking situation." As many of the writers said that spring, Murray deserved the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs' most valuable player for providing them with an easy story angle on every off-day of the series.
This is not that. Still, Flyers coach Peter Laviolette obviously has a decision to make. He pulled goaltender Michael Leighton out of a wild Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, pulled him while his team was trailing by 5-4. It is not the customary time for sending your team a message. The game had crazy written all over it from the beginning, and it's true that Leighton never made a really big save. But it was still a real "feel" kind of move for the coach who has had great instincts this spring, switching in the second period from Leighton to Brian Boucher -- who was only dressing for the first time Saturday night after spraining both knees in Game 5 of the Boston series, nearly 3 weeks ago.
Boucher ended up giving up the last goal of a 6-5 loss. He also made a couple of nice stops and looked completely healthy. Afterward, Laviolette said, "I thought Boosh came in off the bench. He looked good in practice, and he did a good job."
This is a quote off of an interview transcript. It appeared that most Philadelphia writers were in the Flyers' dressing room when the coach was speaking at an interview podium in a different room. Laviolette was not asked, point-blank, what he was going to do about his goaltender in Game 2. But he was asked this question:
"Peter, some of your players said that the switch in the goalies was not a reflection of the way Leighton was playing, but a wake-up call to the team. Can you go into that."
Laviolette replied, "Everybody has got to be better. We win as a team and we lose as a team. We have to be better if we're going to win as a team."
Make of that what you will. What we are left with is a few hours of speculation until sometime Sunday afternoon, when Laviolette will be asked (and, presumably, answer) the goaltending question after he has had a chance to sleep on it.
(And, well, scratch the presumably. Laviolette would not answer at an off-day press conference. We will all find out when we find out, either at the morning skate before Game 2 or when they drop the puck at the United Center on Monday night.)
For their part, neither Leighton not Boucher said they had been told what Laviolette was planning for Game 2. Boucher said it was good to get out on the ice again, and acknowledged what everyone acknowledged. That is, "That it was just just a crazy game there, right from the start. Tonight was one of those crazy nights...(The wide-openness) was a little uncharacteristic of our play."
The most important quality his team needs at this point, Boucher said, "is a short-term memory."
As for Leighton, he said, "There was one or two goals I'd like to have back. Not that they were awful goals. But I'd like to do things a little different."
He is right. They were not awful goals, for the most part. There was a shooting gallery quality to the whole evening, and Leighton really was a victim -- for the most part. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenville called it a "Shootout at the OK Corral," and that was about right. And Leighton was just OK.
So, do you change?
It really is fooling with dynamite at this time of the year, under this kind of a spotlight. Realistically, there is probably a physical evaluation of Boucher that will have to take place first. This was, after all, his first game action since the knee sprains. If he feels fine when he wakes up, Laviolette will then know all of his options.
Given everything, I'm not sure I would make the change yet. I'd go back to Leighton and acknowledge the shortness of his leash. I'd pin the loss on everybody, not on the goaltender. I'd challenge all of them to be better, from the crease on out. And if it were to go bad early, then you make your move to Boucher and you make it for good.