ST. LOUIS _ Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren, though not happy that goalie Michael Leighton did not tell him about his back problems before signing a two-year $3.1 million deal in the summer, downplayed the situation Saturday.
Leighton, 29, will have back surgery to repair a herniated disk Monday and will miss six to eight weeks. He said on Friday that he first had some minor back problems during the Stanley Cup Finals, though he claimed it didn’t affect his play.
Holmgren, whose team played in St. Louis Saturday night, said Leighton passed an end-of-season physical before the Flyers signed him on June 30.
In July, shortly after he signed his two-year deal, Leighton complained about a back issue and the Flyers sent him for an exam, Holmgren said.
“We had an MRI done. It didn’t show anything that was an issue,” Holmgren said. “He was told to continue to work on his strength, and he did his core-stability (exercises) and all that. At training camp, he was fine for a while and it started to crop up again in the Toronto game, so it’s one of those things.”
Added Holmgren: “Sore backs are big issues in hockey. It happens all the time. It’s an unnatural motion. You skate around, and for goaltenders it’s probably even more so. You need a strong core and you need to be flexible.”
Holmgren said Leighton did not have a severely injured back when he signed the contract.
“It’s just one of those things,” the general manager said, adding he wants his players to have a "trust" to disclose injuries to trainer Jim McCrossin. “To dig any deeper is ridiculous on my point…This stuff happens.”
Leighton missed nearly two months with a high ankle sprain last season; he returned and starred in playoff series wins against Boston and Montreal before struggling against Chicago in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Despite his strong performance in Thursday's opener in Pittsburgh, rookie goalie Sergei "Bob" Bobrovsky will be the backup Saturday night in St. Louis.
Brian Boucher will get the start.
“I stated clearly that both goaltenders would play early on,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “They both had great camps. We needed a starting point and I made a decision, and the same thing here. Boosh has looked good; his numbers have been good. He’s been impressive and I think it’s important both goaltenders stay strong and we give them an opportunity.”
In the preseason, Bobrovsky had a 1.76 goals-against average, and Boucher had a 1.90 GAA. Both had a .939 save percentage.
Except for the goalie change, the Flyers will use the same lineup Saturday that played in their 3-2 win in Pittsburgh Thursday. That means defenseman Chris Pronger (knee) will not play, though he could be back for Monday’s home opener against Colorado.
There are 300 tickets left for Monday’s opener. Look for Bobrovsky to start that game.
_ Sam Carchidi