One persistent meme I’ve encountered on blogs and radio shows during the first round so far is that the Flyers goaltending is awful. Even Flyers fans think so. And while their rag-tag netminding hasn’t exactly been routinely stealing games, the truth is they’ve stopped pucks about as well as anyone else in the post-season so far.
Through six games, Philly has deployed three different puck stoppers: Brian Boucher, Sergei Brobovsky and Michael Leighton. The latter two have just 32 and 29 shots against them respectively, so not a lot can be taken from their save percentages of .875 and .862. Pretty much any goalie in the NHL can have that stats line in such a small sample. Brian Boucher has seen the most action thus far, with 115 shots against in five appearances and he’s been mostly excellent with an overall SV% of .935, including .933 at even strength. Those are better numbers than Henrik Lundqvist, Carey Price, Marc-Andre Fleury, Roberto Luongo, Jonathan Quick and Pekka Rinne, for instance. Better, in fact, than Ryan Miller who has stopped 91.9% of even strength shots against in the series.
Overall, if you total the Flyers playoff ES save percentage you still get a pretty decent rate: 127 saves on 137 shots for 92.7%. The first round average across all teams is 91.67%, so Philly is actually marginally above the post-season average in terms of shots stopped at five-on-five. The Flyers SV% short-handed is only about 85%, but that’s not significantly worse than what you’d see over the long-term in the regular season anyways. In short – no, the goaltending hasn’t been awful.
The perception that the Flyers goaltending has stunk is probably born of expectations and confirmation bias more than anything else. Afterall, Leighton et al. is a rather motley collection of puck-stoppers, with a couple of career back-ups and one raw rookie. In addition, the Flyers have struggled to land a recognizable name for the crease since Ron Hextall left town, so hockey fans everywhere have to come expect the Flyers to lose because of goalie problems. If the club had swept Buffalo aside in four or five games this meme probably wouldn’t have cropped up, but an extended series with Laviolette playing musical chairs with his netminders has caused this perception to arise.
Drawing conclusions from so few games is difficult, especially with goaltending, so there’s no telling where things go from here should Phildelphia make it past the first round. Their goaltending might indeed prove to be an Achilles’ heel – but it really hasn’t been all that bad in aggregate versus the Sabres.