PITTSBURGH -- The move, to say the least, was surprising.
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette announced to the team’s web site early Thursday morning that his starting goaltender tonight will be Sergei Bobrovsky, not veteran Brian Boucher as nearly everyone surrounding the team expected.
Would Bobrovsky, who is just 22, really be thrown to the wolves on opening night of the brand new Consol Energy Center in front of a national audience?
Are Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the rest of the Pittsburgh snipers really the best players to introduce Bobrovsky to his first North American pro game?
All of those questions - and possibly a lot more - will be answered when the puck drops on the Flyers’ 2010-11 season at 7:08 pm on VERSUS.
Laviolette called it a “gut decision.”
“It’s not just based on a day or two,” Laviolette said. “From the time he’s been here, he’s been sharp. Every game, every situation, every practice, every scrimmage, he’s looked really good.
“I think ‘Boosh’ [Boucher] came in and he played well. You’ll see both goaltenders early in the season here, but we had to have a starting point somewhere. And I really like the way [Bobrovsky] has put together a body of work in the last month. He’s been very sharp every day.”
Bobrovsky, who played the last two years in Russia’s KHL, posted a 1.76 goals-against average and 93.9 save percentage in 205 minutes in the preseason, albeit against subpar NHL talent.
Boucher, meanwhile, had the exact save percentage and a slightly higher 1.90 goals-against average in 47 less minutes of work.
A debut like this could go one of two ways:
-Bobrovsky could be shelled by a Penguins team that attacks a Chris Pronger-less Flyers defense and routs their cross-state rival in their plush, new arena.
-Bobrovsky is absolutely stellar, catches the Penguins looking around at the new sights and sounds of their building, catches fire and the Flyers ride him to a strong season.
Perhaps the Flyers are looking for a more permanent replacement in-case Michael Leighton’s bulging disk is more serious than first thought. It does not suggest here that Leighton’s injury is more serious than it currently stands, but Leighton was officially assigned to the Long Term Injured Reserve on Thursday, leaving him out of action for at least 24 days or 10 games.
Or, of course, Bobrovsky’s start falls somewhere in between all of that.
Laviolette is probably banking on the latter.
Still, no one saw this coming.
Pick up a copy of Friday’s Daily News for Boucher’s candid reaction to being told he would not start.
Chris Pronger will likely not be in the lineup tonight, choosing to nurse his surgically-repaired right knee for at least another day or two.
Pronger skated for about 30 minutes after practice with the Flyers’ other two scratches, defenseman Matt Walker and forward Andreas Nodl.
Nodl was re-called by the Flyers on Thursday as expected.
It’s pretty telling for the Flyers to start the season with Bartulis instead of the much more expensive Matt Walker. Walker will make $1.7 million this season, a full $900,000 more than Bartulis. That’s an expensive cap hit for an 8th defenseman.
It’s also an audition of sorts for Bartulis, to see if he can hold the spot.
Here are tonight’s lines:
Carcillo - Richards - Carter
Hartnell - Briere - Leino
Van Riemsdyk - Giroux - Zherdev
Shelley - Betts - Powe
Timonen - Coburn
Meszaros - O’Donnell
Carle - Bartulis
*The defensive pairings are subject to change with Pronger out.
For the latest updates, follow Frank Seravalli on Twitter at http://twitter.com/DNFlyers.