ATLANTIC CITY - For the first time since the Stanley Cup finals, Michael Leighton played meaningful minutes this weekend. Last week the Flyers loaned the 29-year-old goalie to Adirondack, their AHL affiliate, for a 6-day conditioning assignment.
Leighton had returned to practice on Nov. 10 after having surgery in October to repair a herniated disk in his lower back.
His first game action came this weekend, when Leighton started back-to-back games for the Phantoms, including yesterday's 4-2 loss to the Albany Devils at Boardwalk Hall. Leighton stopped 23 of the Devils' 27 shots.
"[Leighton] hadn't played since early training camp so to throw him into a back-to-back situation like that was good for him," said Flyers assistant general manager John Paddock, who stepped in as interim coach of the Phantoms last month. "It gave him a chance to feel the puck and get in the action, so it was good in that sense."
On Saturday night, the Phantoms lost, 3-2, to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Leighton started off well, stopping 26 of the first 27 shots, but then it seemed as though his conditioning broke down late in the third period when he allowed two goals in the last 5 minutes.
That trend continued early in yesterday's game. On the third shot of the game, Leighton was beaten by Nick Palmieri, 5:28 into the first period.
Less than 3 minutes later, Albany scored again. A Phantoms defenseman looked to make a cross-ice pass in his own zone when it took a bad bounce off his stick. The puck settled between the circles in front of Leighton and Adam Henrique was there to capitalize, putting the puck past the helpless goaltender.
"To be honest with you, the ice was kind of bad and it was hard to make a tape-to-tape pass," Leighton said. "A few times our 'D' went to make a pass and it hopped up as they were passing it. So it's a game of mistakes and some were made tonight, but it happens."
With just over 6 minutes remaining in a one-goal game, Leighton made a series of spectacular saves, but Michael Swift capitalized on a rebound off Leighton's shoulder, setting the final score.
"I don't blame Michael for the loss; I thought he played good. I thought he played better last night than he played tonight," Paddock said.
According to the NHL's Collective Bargaining Agreement, Leighton's minor league conditioning stint could last no longer than 6 days or three games because he was on the long-term injured reserve list. So he is headed back to Philadelphia, although the next step is unclear.
"Mike was down on his conditioning and there's really no decision that needs to be made right now," Paddock said. "We'll bring him back to Philadelphia, there's some issues that we need to look at with his injury. We'll get him checked out by our doctors thoroughly and we'll work from that once we get that information."