My internet was out for most of the night this evening, meaning I didn't read much about tonight's Game 1 while the action was going on. I checked in on Twitter a few times, but you don't get much opinion out of 140 character long messages. Nothing that makes you think too hard, at least. Because of this, maybe I didn't get the full picture of the game tonight as most people saw it, but what I saw a full team breakdown by the Flyers on the defensive side of the ice.
When my internet came back and I was able to see some of the reaction, I was shocked to see how many people were pinning the loss on Michael Leighton's play. Sure, Leighton wasn't great tonight, but I don't think his poor play was necessarily the reason the Flyers lost the game. As a result of not having the internet for most of the night, I'm not sure if this is the consensus tonight, and I haven't read any of the comments from the game just yet, but either way, it's not what I saw.
I saw a goaltender named Leighton who received zero help from his teammates. I saw a goalie who didn't play well wearing the jersey of a team that didn't play well. I'll go into more detail after the jump.
Let me start by saying that yes, Michael Leighton could've played better tonight. The entire team, however, excluding maybe Arron Asham and Scott Hartnell, could've played better though as well. It was a bad team effort, especially defensively, throughout the entire game tonight, and singling out Leighton isn't really fair in my opinion.
Let's break it down goal by goal, shall we?
On the first Chicago tally that tied the game at 1-1 in the first period, Troy Brouwer blasted a one-time pass from Marian Hossa by the sprawling Leighton. It was a shot that Leighton had no chance to stop, and the play was made entirely by Hossa. Luckily for him and unfortunate for the Flyers was that Ryan Parent had the task of bumping number 81 off the puck behind the net. Hossa schooled Parent, whose stick inexplicably flung to the far corner, giving the dynamic forward the chance to find Brouwer.
Can't blame Leighton on that one.
The second goal was probably stoppable by Leighton, but to blame him on it is pretty harsh too. Up a man, Braydon Coburn flubbed the puck at the Chicago blueline, giving Dave Bolland the chance to pounce on a breakaway attempt. He went five hole on Leighton, who actually stopped the puck before misfortune had it trickle up his stick and into the net. Given the shot by Bolland, Leighton probably should've stopped it, but again, to blame Leighton for allowing a breakaway goal is pretty harsh.
Leighton probably could've stopped the third goal as well, but in the same vein as Bolland's goal, Patrick Sharp's tally is really unfair to pin on one guy. It was a classic example of how Chicago uses their speed to their advantage. Winning a defensive draw, they drew the puck around behind the net up to the winger along the far boards. Chris Pronger pinched a little too far, and when the puck came out to Sharp in the neutral zone, he had plenty of space to turn on the jets with a two on one chance.
Now, Kris Versteeg's goal that tied the game at 4-4 was completely the result of terrible defensive zone coverage. In the slot with several Flyers around him, Versteeg was able to get two cracks at a loose puck in the crease. There was no challenge from Lukas Krajicek, who sat right next to Versteeg as he lunged at the puck, and that's just unacceptable.
It was the same story on Chicago's fifth goal, the second of Brouwer's night. Again teaming up with Hossa, Brouwer was able to sneak into the slot untouched where The Cursed One was able to feed him another perfect one-time chance. Leighton probably never saw it, but it didn't matter. Peter Laviolette pulled him, and the game was Brian Boucher's to save.
I think it's easy to look at a five goal onslaught and blame the goalie, especially when that goalie was pulled from the game in the second period. It's true that Leighton didn't make a big save when his team could've used it most, like on the Sharp goal or the Bolland breakaway, for example. But all season long, we've known that the Flyers can't rely on their goaltender, no matter who it is, to be the guy that bails them out.
They've gotten to this point of the season by being a solid defensive team that allows their goalie to see pucks and make the average saves. They know Michael Leighton or Brian Boucher or Carter freakin' Hutton isn't going to steal them a hockey game. So as they let their goalie down in Game 1 with a sloppy performance in front of him, they should've expected a loss.
Peter Laviolette said it best after the game. The Flyers lost as a team tonight. Blaming it on one guy isn't fair. However, with that said, Laviolette has a bit of a quandary here. While the game winning goal given up by Brian Boucher was very, very weak, he played pretty well in the 24ish minutes he saw in Game 1.
Most of the reports out of Chicago tonight seem to suggest that Leighton will be back in on Monday night for Game 2, but that's not a known fact yet. It's an interesting balance Laviolette has to strike -- go with a goalie who's confidence may have been shattered by the Chelsea Dagger, or go with a guy who's still icing his injured knees.
While the Flyers' starting goalie may be unknown for Game 2, one thing is sure: if the team in front of him can't tighten up on defense, it's not going to matter who's in the crease.