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Daily Times beat writer Anthony J. SanFilippo takes you inside the locker rooms of the Philadelphia Flyers and the rest of the NHL.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

WHAT'S UP WITH BOB?

There's no question Sergei Bobrovsky has been a pleasant surprise for the Flyers this season.

He's stormed onto the scene, won over the hearts of a fan base thirsting for a franchise goalie for more than a decade, and is already getting serious consideration not only for the Calder Trophy as the NHL's rookie of the year, but for the All Star game where he is second in voting behind Montreal's Carey Price - and both are write-in candidates.

And why not have this kind of excitement? After all, the 22-year-old, undrafted rookie from Russia has gone 14-4-3 in 22 starts this season (one no decision) with a goals against average of 2.29 and a save percentage of .922.

All of those totals have him among the league leaders in each category, something the Flyers haven't had since the days of the talented but enigmatic Roman Cechmanek in an era where defense ruled the sport.

As a matter of fact, what Bobrovsky has done so far this season can more equate statistically with Pelle Lindbergh, considering their eras are more similar based on offensive production around the league.

That's certainly worth shouting about, isn't it?

Except, those numbers, while very good, are a little flawed.

Following Wednesday's 5-4 loss to the Sharks in which the Flyers blew a three-goal lead in the third period, and one in which Bobrovsky looked seriously over-matched in the shootout against Logan Couture and Ryane Clowe, I decided to do some number-crunching.

It was actually something I had been thinking about for a few days after noticing that Bobrovsky was one of only two goalies in the NHL (Kari Lehtonen in Dallas was the other) to have started 15 or more games this season without recording a shutout.

My hypothesis was that Bobrovsky hasn't beaten any really good teams this year, and has, in fact struggled mightily against them.

So, to test my theory, I put the numbers to work, and here's what I came up with:

This season, against teams that currently have winning records (as of Dec. 8, 2010) Bobrovsky is 5-4-2. Well, that didn't really justify my theory. It's not a great record, but it's decent enough.

But then I broke down his last 10 starts against winning teams and here's what I found:

Record: 3-4-2
GAA: 3.06
Save Pct: .889

Not really numbers you want to create a parody of Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" about now are they?

Here are the breakdowns of the wins:

- A strong effort in Pittsburgh at the end of October, where he stopped 26 of 28 shots against a struggling Penguins team (who has since surpassed the Flyers in the standings, winning 11 straight - which means Tuesday's game at Wells Fargo Center will be a much different measuring stick).

- A comfortable win against the Rangers at home in a game where his team played strong defense in front of him as he only faced 21 shots, stopping 20.

- A dominating performance in Minnesota where the Flyers buried the Wild (6-1) and Bobrovsky only faced 16 shots.

However, in the other seven games, Bob has allowed three goals four times, four goals twice and five goals once.

His best performance, maybe of the season, came in a loss - the overtime game in Washington last month when he stopped 36 of 39 shots fired his way, but you would expect he would be a bit ramped up playing against countrymen Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin for the first time.

Otherwise, he's just been average against the better competition.

Now, I know that some of you are thinking, what's wrong with that? That bludgeoning the bad teams and playing .500 against the good teams will equate to pretty good success over the course of a season.

I don't disagree. But the question here is not about how the Flyers will finish the regular season - they almost certainly will be a top 4 seed in the East - but more so about how the rookie goalie may fare in April and May against good teams when the games really count.

He has proven that he's good enough to dominate the Islanders, Devils, Maple Leafs, Panthers and Hurricanes of the world (9-0-1 against sub-.500 teams) but he hasn't won a big game against a top level opponent since Pittsburgh at the end of October.

Maybe this is something the Flyers have noticed a little bit too, which is why coach Peter Laviolette turned to Brian Boucher for benchmark games against Washington and Montreal a couple weeks back rather than Bobrovsky. Boucher won both, getting the Flyers back to the top of the NHL standings.

And if that's the case, this raises some questions:

1. Is Bobrovsky ready for this NHL grind? His previous high for a season was 35 starts. He has 22 now and it's not even Christmas.

2. Has his team's defensive play fallen off in front of him? Considering how well they were playing just one month ago, maybe it has, which could account for some of the goals (discipline is also a part of the problem there) but with that in mind, wouldn't you feel more comfortable if the goalie could bail out his teammates when they make mistakes in front of him?

3. Has Laviolette put too much pressure on the rookie to be successful too early? There's no question Laviolette is a brilliant coach who often pushes the right buttons. However, it seems that maybe he coaches a little too desperate with a team that doesn't need to have desperation 24/7 any more.
Last season, it was adamant that they had that desperation night in and night out. They were in 29th place in the NHL and needed to make the playoffs. There was no room for ebbs and flows.
This season is different. The Flyers don't expect to be fighting for their playoff lives every night of the season, so the coach may be able to ease off the pedal just a tad. If nothing else, for the goalie's mental state, rest him a bit more. Boucher has been serviceable this season. Throwing him a bone a little more regularly may help Bobrovsky more than can be imagined. Maybe, with Michael Leighton due to return next week, they will do that with a goalie Laviolette has a bit more confidence in than Boucher.

After tonight's jaunt to Toronto, seven of the Flyers next nine games are against winning teams - and not just teams who are barely over .500 either. There's Boston, Pittsburgh, Montreal, Vancouver, Los Angeles and Detroit - all teams with their eyes set on the big, shiny, silver prize in June.

If the Flyers want to keep their eye there too, they'd be wise to protect their young goalie from possibly flaming out way too soon.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Steve said...

Think this is less about Bob and more about the team as a whole. I know they have had a very easy schedule so far, and have proven they can beat up on the basement teams in the East, which is good, especially since in years past, the Flyers would tend to come out flat against crappy teams and give up easy points.

But the numbers against good teams are an issue for the entire squad, not just Bob. Team needs to play better in front of him, and sure, he needs to step up his play a bit more against better teams as well.

Flyers were up 4-1 in the third last night, w/ what, ~10 minutes left? It would have been nice had Bob been able to come up w/ big saves to keep the lead, but you can't pin the loss entirely on him, or suggest there's something wrong w/ JUST him because the Flyers ended up losing the game.

Penalties, defensive breakdowns, and a lack of focus blew the lead and lost the game last night.

Good analysis, but I think it's worth pointing out that the Flyers, as a whole, need to be better against better teams, and while that includes Bob, it isn't exclusive to him either.

December 9, 2010 at 10:23 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This has nothing to do with goaltending and the back 6. It has everything with the coach's system not matching the parts.

If you have a "3 lines on the attack" system, you need 3 lines that actually can attack. The coach’s system requires the constant pursuit of the puck - forcing turn-overs and creating chances based on those turnovers, with the assumption that there will be the speed and anticipation to be able to have 3 men low and then get back in time to prevent the odd man rush – this is not happening.

The Flyers are essentially a one line team, there is (was) a 35-45 goal scorer playing out of position (Carter) and the best player in Richards having no one to play with. 4 centers for 3 spots, and no scoring wings.

Clearly, the Flyers have a significant problem on wing, and thus are an easy match-up for the “elite” teams – all they have to do is shut down the Briere line. The Richards line and the mishmash of the Giroux line are then exposed to shutting down the center because the wings will not create goals on their own.

You can’t be on constant attack if you don’t have the threats, and Nodl, JVR, Hartnell, Leino, Zherdev and Carcillo are not threats to score on their own. This was clearly shown in the most recent shut outs.

December 10, 2010 at 9:06 AM 

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