Over the next few days, we're going to be providing a postmortem of the Flyers 2010-11 season. By no means does one article indicate every single thing that caused this year's early exit. We'll try to cover all the bases in time -- we have plenty of it.
Watching Sergei Bobrovsky during Game 4 on Friday night, I couldn't help but think about what could have been if Peter Laviolette wasn't so damn reactionary after Game 2 against Buffalo. He was the same goalie he's been almost all year -- not perfect, of course, but simply good enough for a rookie behind what should have been a capable defense.
Yes, the Flyers desperately needed a win in that Buffalo game after a tough 1-0 loss in Game 1. But recall that Bob was fantastic in that Game 1, turning aside 24 shots, helpless on the one that went by him.
That said, I understand why Lavi yanked Bob in Game 2. He was not good in any way, allowing three goals in 12 minutes, and yes, the Flyers needed to win the game. They ultimately did just that, and who knows if they do that without the goalie change. The decisions after that game are where I get angry.
I'm not even particularly mad with the decision to start Brian Boucher in Game 3. He played extremely well in relief of Bobrovsky in Game 2, and it's been the rule all year -- ride the hot hand.
It's the decision to throw Bob into the press box, the guy that helped the Flyers compile the best record in the East through most of the regular season, without any real reason to do so.
It's just mind-boggling. Michael Leighton had great numbers in the AHL all season, sure. He was an important piece in the run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2010, sure. But there were no indications that he'd be able to duplicate that stretch at the NHL level, nor were there any real reasons to believe Bobrovsky couldn't bounce back from 12 bad minutes of hockey in a game that frankly, the best goaltender in the world played like shit in as well.
But that was the decision.
The rookie who had played so well for the majority of the regular season at the NHL level -- who the coaching staff praised all year for his game, who had legitimately been involved in Calder Trophy talks at times -- was shunned into street clothes, and the career journeyman with about three, maybe four months of impressive NHL hockey in his life was thrown onto the bench for some reason we really may never know.
We all know what happened after that. Boucher was great for two starts in the Buffalo series, earning a win in Game 3 and a loss in Game 4. In his Game 5 start, however, he was horrible, allowing three goals on 11 starts, and since Bobrovsky's season seemed over due to a bizarre coaching decision, Leighton was the one tasked with replacing him.
Leights looked big in the net and he made a few stops in the latter portion of Game 5, but he wasn't really tested all that much in the grand scheme of things, despite 20 saves before the final horn.
The overtime goal was not his fault in the slightest bit, but was his performance enough to give him his second start in a little under a year? In the playoffs? In an elimination game? Laviolette thought so, and he started Game 6.
I didn't hate the decision at the time, and sure, hindsight is 20/20 and all that. But Leighton was horrible, and really, that could have been predicted from a mile away. 49 decent minutes of hockey after a season in the AHL isn't enough to earn a start in an elimination game during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Leighton was pulled after the first period and that very well could have been the last time he'll wear Flyer orange.
From there, the jokes had already been written a hundred times. The Flyers have no goaltending, it's the same old shit that's been going on for literally decades. Brian Boucher is a sieve, Sergei Bobrovsky is a sieve, Michael Leighton is a sieve and the Flyers will never learn.
You know, never mind if it's true or not.
Never mind that each goalie had about 15 bad minutes all postseason -- and that's it.
That's just the thing here. The national media and the local columnists, who likely watched no more than 15 to 20 Flyers games all year long before the postseason, will write what they will.
(And by "watched," we mean "sat in the press box on their computers trying to come up with an easy story for the next day's paper without actually watching or analyzing the game.")
For the most part, the narrative is always written well before the games are played, and for the most part, that narrative is just in the ether. It's not real. It's bullshit.
But when the head coach of the team makes decisions like the ones Peter Laviolette made in the 2011 postseason surrounding his goaltenders, it elevates that narrative from the abstract to reality. It validates all that BS that everybody is writing, and that's when it starts to actually have an impact on how players think and how they perform. (They read what people write and listen to what people say -- believe it.)
As those of us who have watched the team with a serious eye since October know, the Flyers goalie carousel was way overblown in these playoffs by those who aren't among us. If Peter Laviolette simply stuck to his guns and didn't fly off the handle with strange, head-scratching decisions, maybe things could've been different.
Instead, that carousel spins into the offseason. And now, there's no button to stop it.