Goaltending in Philadelphia is not an enviable job by any stretch of the imagination, and anyone who attempts to do so must be a brick wall with a heart of stone, veins of ice, and many other hard/cold sports analogies. It wasn’t always like that though; remember when Philadelphia cranked out stellar goaltenders? Yeah, me either, cause I wasn’t born yet, but with the magic of the internet we can relive the glory days of Philadelphia Goaltending.
Guys like Bernie Parent, Pelle Lindbergh, Chico Resch and the ever incendiary Ron Hextall defined Flyers goaltending in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s with their skill and notable toughness. Then the millennium turned and with it went the quality of the men between the pipes wearing black and orange. The mid-2000’s were awash in mediocrity with Brian Boucher, the ever forgettable Robert Esche (who?), Michael Leighton and Antero Nittymaki, who’s name sounds dirty, but isn’t. So now, as the first decade of the 2000’s passes, the Flyers are trying to rebuild and rebrand their goaltending core… and failing.
Last season was probably the peak of disaster for the Flyers. Former Coyote Ilya Bryzgolov, who came to town in 2011 in a move that looked to right the ship, was lampooned by having his borderline insanity aired on HBO’s “24/7” series. Couple that with faltering play and rambling post-game interviews and it’s a wonder he didn’t get shipped off to sports rehab therapy. Unhappy backup Sergei Bobrovsky was shipped off to Columbus, where he promptly put up a Vezina Trophy winning performance. In an even stranger twist, the man who Bobrovsky replaced in Columbus, Steve Mason, was then brought back to Philly to be the starter after Bryz was canned in a compliance buyout. Former Flyer and Stanley Cup Winning Backup Goalie (by default) Ray Emery was also acquired to battle Mason for the starting position in the offseason. And so, this is the duo Snider and Holmgren chose to start the 2013-14 season…
There was much taunting and lambasting the move in the offseason, and the current 1-7-0 record seems to justify all the scrutiny, but just how bad are the Flyers goalies playing?
“Not bad,” is the rather surprising answer to that question. Well, at least if you’re Steve Mason. Sure, he’s only won one game, but I don’t care who you are, with that awful defense in front of you there won’t be a lot of shutouts under your belt. Here’s a few numbers that put Mason’s supposed struggles into perspective:
– In 6 starts he has accumulated a 2.37 GAA. His team has only put up 11 goals all season. Net a few more and you could be talking about “Vezina Candidate Steve Mason.” (probably not though)
– Mason’s SV% is a stellar .924. Compare that to current goaltending sensation Semyon Varlamov (.950) and notice that he is one spot behind last season’s Vezina candidate Craig Anderson (.925)
– He has faced 183 shots, which breaks down to just over 30 per game. That’s not a TON, but if you watch Flyers games, the D must think he’s a wet T-shirt, cause they are hanging him out to dry.
Emery, on the other hand, is proving what I argued last season: numbers can lie. Emery’s numbers last season were outstanding. He won the Jennings with Corey Crawford for best combined GAA (1.94) and posted a SV% of .922. He won his first 12 straight starts as part of the Blackhawks record setting streak, and finished with 17 wins on 21 starts. Pretty great, eh? Not so fast. Emery was benefitting from a Stanley Cup winning defense and a serious run of good luck. Having watched every one of his starts last year, I repeated was left flabbergasted about how a shooter would have a wide open net, but instead shoot directly into the chest of an out-of-position Emery. His positioning was questionable last year, and he struggled going post-to-post. Often kicking out big rebounds, Emery could thank his Hawk’s D for negating second chances for opposing teams. He’s not so lucky with this batch of blueliners that Philadelphia has on its roster.
Emery’s current stats, 8 goals on 63 shots in 2 starts, giving him a dismal 4.04 GAA and .873 SV% are a total turnaround from last season, and I believe we are finally seeing Emery for the goalie he is. He’s going to have to work even harder to compensate for the mistakes his defense will be making all season. In a market like Philly, it won’t be long before they are looking for someone to crucify, and goaltenders are usually easy targets. Does this tandem have what it takes to turn it around, or will they go the way the team goes, regardless of their efforts?
Scott Huntington is a writer, reporter, blogger, and long-time sports fan. He currently lives in PA and with his wife and son, following and writing about all things sports and beyond. Follow Scott at @SMHuntington