February 20, 2011

Boosh or Bob?

Sergei Bobrovsky is 23-9-3 with a 2.44 goals against average and a .919 save percentage.

Brian Boucher is 15-6-2 with a 2.26 goals against average and a .922 save percentage.

Bobrovsky is a 22-year-old rookie with no playoff experience.

Boucher is a 34-year-old veteran with 34 games of playoff experience.

So, with only 23 games left in the NHL's regular season, which member of the Philadelphia Flyers' goaltending tandem will start in the postseason?

Common sense dictates that it'll be Boucher. As good as Bobrovsky has played, he's still a newborn NHL babe with a work-in-progress grasp of the English language. Boucher's participated in two key playoff runs, including the opening rounds last year, and he holds the record for "longest shutout streak" at 332 minutes. He's not a franchise goalie, but with probably the best group of blueliners in the league, the Flyers finally don't really need a superstar in net.

There's no doubt in my mind that Bob will start next year between the pipes in Philadelphia. He's a Calder Trophy candidate and one of the most promising young goalies in the game, but that doesn't mean he's ready for the pressures of the NHL postseason. Bob's the goalie of the future, but Peter Laviolette has made it abundantly clear that he's all about winning in 2011.

In theory, the Flyers won't be throwing either goalie into a pressure-packed early matchup anyway, thanks to a probable first-round showdown with the seven or eight seed. But as the Flyers proved with a few sneaky upsets over the last few years, seeding isn't all that important in the playoffs. They'll most likely draw the New York Rangers, Buffalo Sabres or Carolina Hurricanes -- not really a pushover in the bunch. New York and Buffalo feature top-five goaltenders in Henrik Lundqvist and Ryan Miller, and the Hurricanes outplayed the Flyers no more than three days ago. They'd be wise not to take any team too lightly.

And of course, no one knows how Boucher's apparent injury in today's game will play out. Boosh seemed to shake it off, but any kind of nagging injury could cripple a goalie's chances to start in April and beyond.

Maybe this all won't matter. The Flyers have been the best team in hockey over the last five months, for which Boucher and Bobrovsky deserve a good deal of credit. But when spring rolls around, Laviolette is going to be called upon to pick a true number one goalie. Settling on the rock-solid veteran or rolling with the dice with a rookie could end up being the most scrutinized decision of Lavvy's Philly coaching career.

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