Friday, December 19, 2014

Flyers' backup job should be a battle

MONTRÉAL -- With the Flyers’ second back-to-back set of the week on tap Saturday, the question will be raised again.

Flyers' backup job should be a battle

(Charles Krupa/AP file)
(Charles Krupa/AP file)

MONTRÉAL -- With the Flyers’ second back-to-back set of the week on tap Saturday, the question will be raised again.

Who will be in net?

Whoever it is the for the Flyers will not face Carey Price, who is coming off a shutout and will miss the game with the flu. Canadiens backup Peter Budaj is 0-2-0 with a 4.50 goals against-average and a .842 save percentage in his career against the Flyers.

It would seem, then, like a prime night to start Brian Boucher.

Ilya Bryzgalov started his 9th consecutive game on Friday in New Jersey, his 14th starting nod of the Flyers’ 15 games during this shortened season. Friday was also his worst outing of the season.

At some point, Bryzgalov will need a rest. He’s on-pace to exceed his highest percentage played of his team’s total minutes of his career. Bryzgalov, 32, played 82.5 percent of the Coyotes’ minutes in 2009-10 (4,084 out of roughly 4,950). He appeared in 69 games that year. He appeared in 59 games with the Flyers (3,415 minutes) last year, but was also hurt for a period of time late in the season, which impacted that number.

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Through Friday, Bryzgalov has been in goal for 89.2 percent of the Flyers’ total time on-ice this season (808 of 905).

Yes, Bryzgalov clearly enjoys playing a lot and being in a rhythm, but his workload needs to be managed according. He’s been the Flyers’ clear MVP through the first 4 weeks of the season. It’s a delicate juggling act, since coach Peter Laviolette also needs to push the Flyers back into playoff positioning.

It seemed like Bryzgalov was pulled on Monday night in Toronto, with the game out of hand at 4-1 early in the second, to rest him so he could start again Tuesday in Winnipeg after an early morning arrival in Manitoba.

Laviolette said it “didn’t make sense” to discuss whether or not Boucher was originally scheduled to start on Tuesday against the Jets.

When Bryzgalov gets his next break is anyone’s guess. It could come as soon as Saturday at the Bell Centre against the surprising Canadiens, in front of a live Hockey Night in Canada audience.

Boucher, 36, gave up one goal - to James van Riemsdyk - in his relief of Bryzgalov against Toronto. He stopped 9 of 10 shots.

With another opportunity to play, Boucher would be given another chance to impress the coaching staff in his return to the NHL.

Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren announced on Friday night that Michael Leighton will be out for another 7-to-10 days, which would peg a return time around Feb. 22-25. His injured his right ring finger on Feb. 8 and was only supposed to miss 7-to-10 days then, meaning his injury time has doubled.

The question then is: What happens when Leighton is healthy?

Laviolette was less than lukewarm when asked whether strong performances by Boucher would open up competition for the Flyers’ permanent backup job.

“I don’t believe so,” Laviolette said.

Many fans seemed to be relieved to have Boucher temporarily assigned the backup role. He’s a steadying influence in net and is familiar with many of his teammates - probably even more so than Leighton.

The sample size is so small, but Leighton has failed to impress in his 4 NHL games since Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final. He was shelled, 5-1, by Tampa Bay in his only start of the season on Jan. 27. The Flyers beat that same Tampa team, 2-1, behind Bryzgalov less than two weeks later.

That lone start against Tampa - also in a back-to-back situation - was Leighton’s first professional hockey action in nearly 10 months (April 27, 2012 with the Phantoms).

Now, Leighton is on the shelf again. Boucher, meanwhile, was really good in 6 games with the Phantoms this season and didn’t flinch off the bench on Monday in Toronto.

In fact, van Riemsdyk admitted he whiffed on that goal. He tried to go five-hole. Without knowing van Riemsdyk said that down the hall, Boucher said he knew van Riemsdyk would try to go five-hole but lost the puck. It was his only blemish.

Boucher knows he is in a delicate situation, with a teammate sitting out with an injury.

“Sometimes, it’s poor play or an injury that opens up an opportunity for some people,” Boucher said. “That’s the nature of the business.”

The entire situation is interesting, since Laviolette has never really been one to guarantee a job based on injury. Both Leighton and Boucher make within $50,000 of each other and they’re on one-way, one-year contracts. They would be interchangeable in terms of the rules required to send one of them back to the AHL.

In many ways, the backup job should be an all-in competition. Let the best man win.

“Any time you’re put in a position, you want to do your best,” Boucher said. “I think all of our goals is to be in the National Hockey League. So, for me, that doesn’t change. I want to do well and I want to do a good job. Sometimes, decisions are made by people higher up and I can’t control them. I just want to try my best - that’s all I can do.”

For the latest updates, follow Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @DNFlyers

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Frequent Flyers is your home for news and analysis of all things orange and black.

Frank Seravalli Daily News Staff Writer
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