TORONTO - The Flyers may well be starting this season the same way they played most of last season: with a goaltending injury.
After grinding through 65 minutes, starter Michael Leighton needed to be yanked because of a lower back injury, forcing coach Peter Laviolette to insert a cold Brian Boucher off the bench just in time for a shootout in last night's 4-3 exhibition win over the Maple Leafs.
"We needed to make the move, physically," Laviolette said after a long pause when asked about the move. "At this point, I really don't want to comment until we get a better understanding."
Leighton was not available for comment after the game.
General manager Paul Holmgren said he is "cautiously optimistic" that Leighton will be back in action soon, though the injury seems deeper than that.
"He's got a little bit of a back issue," Holmgren told the Daily News. "It started to bother him in the third period. It's more of a precaution that he was taken out. Obviously, it's not an ideal situation to put in a goalie that's been sitting there the whole time."
Boucher allowed one goal on three shots in the shootout after barely having enough time to stretch. He preserved the Flyers' win after Danny Briere and Claude Giroux both scored in the shootout.
"We'll see how he is [today]," Holmgren said. "But we probably really won't know what's going on until we get back to Philadelphia and get him checked out."
While Holmgren is optimistic that Leighton will be fine by next week some time, he also revealed that this isn't the first time Leighton suffered the injury; he just re-aggravated it last night.
Leighton apparently strained his back this summer while exercising. It was unclear whether he suffered the injury before or after signing a 2-year, $3.1 million deal on June 30.
"He had some issues in the summer from working out that kind of flared up on him," Holmgren said. "But since training camp started, no, it hasn't been an issue. That's why we're hoping that it's a short-term thing."
Unfortunately for Leighton - and the Flyers - training camp is just a little more than a week old. It didn't take long for Leighton to have these problems. Leighton started Tuesday's preseason home opener against New Jersey but exited after two periods, as expected, for Russian prospect Sergei Bobrovsky.
Last night against the Leafs was Leighton's first test at a full game's workload. He stopped 35 of 38 shots, including four in overtime, before giving way to Boucher.
Before Leighton was pulled, Nikolai Zherdev looked to dominate the headlines with his first two goals in a Flyers jersey. Zherdev sparked the Flyers on a two-goal, third-period comeback to force overtime and the shootout.
Now Zherdev's progress is just a sidebar. Last year, the Flyers dressed seven goaltenders throughout the season as starters Leighton, Ray Emery, Boucher and Johan Backlund all went down with injuries.
Leighton's injury could pave the way for Bobrovsky, who has been nearly flawless in two preseason appearances, to challenge Boucher for a full-time job sooner than anyone expected.
Last night's notable scratches included Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Blair Betts, Scott Hartnell, Ian Laperriere, Ville Leino, James van Riemsdyk, Sean O'Donnell, Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen and Matt Walker . . . This same group of Flyers traveled to Minnesota for tonight's preseason matchup with the Minnesota Wild . . . Van Riemsdyk, O'Donnell, Hartnell and Laperriere will play tonight.
For more news and analysis, read Frank Seravalli's blog, Frequent Flyers, at
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