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Flyers look to answer goaltending questions

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

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Flyers look to answer goaltending questions
With Philadelphia's season now over, the team will look to address its most glaring weakness -- in net -- where some think Sergei Bobrovsky could be the longterm answer.
VOORHEES, N.J. -- During his final meeting with the media of the 2010-11 season, Philadelphia Flyers coach Peter Laviolette was asked if his job would be easier if he had a defined No. 1 goaltender, rather than the constant rotation he was forced to use during the regular season and playoffs.

"Is it easier to know that you've got a guy (like) that?" he replied. "Yeah. Sure."

Could that goalie be Sergei Bobrovsky? Laviolette wasn't saying, but the feeling from those in the organization is there's hope the undrafted 22-year-old Russian could develop into that role.

"He probably has a good opportunity to be a valuable part of the organization," was about as far as Laviolette would go on the issue.

His goalie coach, Jeff Reese,

"He's the best prospect I've ever had as a goalie coach and this is my 13th year."
-- Flyers goaltending coach Jeff Reese, on Sergei Bobrovsky

 was more succinct in his feelings about Bobrovsky.

"He's the best prospect I've ever had as a goalie coach and this is my 13th year," he told NHL.com.

Bobrovsky was signed last May out of Russia's Kontinental Hockey League, and was a surprise starter opening night in Pittsburgh. That wasn't the plan entering training camp, but when Michael Leighton needed back surgery, it opened the door.

"I thought every time I watched Bob (Bobrovsky), I thought he was terrific," said Laviolette. "Every day was a good day. It was the intrasquad game with the rookies, it was the rookie game down in Washington, it was his exhibition season, it was the way he practiced with us, it was his quickness and his athleticism. It looked really promising."

And for a player with so much working against him, Bobrovsky had a strong debut season, going 28-13-8 with a 2.58 goals-against average and .915 save percentage in 54 games. Not bad considering he never had played more than 35 games in a season, and was in his first season in a new country, playing a new style of hockey, and while having to learn a new language.

"What this kid has gone through, it's impressive what he accomplished this year," said Reese. "For a kid who never played junior, in a 66- or 67-game schedule, he's never had that. He's never played physical hockey, he's never had to fight through traffic like he had to, never had to handle the puck like he had to. So many things he had to learn."

Reese said there was a certain amount of fatigue that set into Bobrovsky's game in the second half of the season. After the All-Star break, Bobrovsky was just 7-7-5 with a 2.84 GAA and .907 save percentage in 21 games.

And while he was solid in Game 1 of the first round of the playoffs against the Buffalo Sabres, stopping 24 of 25 shots in a 1-0 loss, he was yanked in the first period of Game 2 and made a healthy scratch until returning as Brian Boucher's backup for Game 7.

"The Buffalo series, we pulled him out because we wanted to give him a little rest, a little time of to sit and watch," said Reese. "Then he came back strong in the Boston series, I thought he played very well. He just got a little bit of a rest, that's what he needed."

Bobrovsky started only Game 4 against the Bruins, but saw action in all four games due to ineffectiveness and injuries on Boucher's part. He stopped 22 of 25 shots in Game 4, and in four games he allowed just six goals on 49 shots.

However, goaltending will -- as it always seems to -- be a hot topic in Philadelphia. Bobrovsky had a nice rookie season, but is he the answer? What about Michael Leighton, who has one year left on his contract? Or veteran Brian Boucher, who had a solid regular season and was outstanding against the Sabres in the playoffs?

Or will there be a push to bring in a veteran like Phoenix's Ilya Bryzgalov, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent July 1.

"I think our goaltending was pretty consistent through much of the year," said Laviolette. "There were some games in the playoffs where they started that the team and the goaltending as a whole, both together, didn't get the start we were looking for. I think Sergei has a bright future, I think Brian has done a good job, Michael is under contract next year. I think all those things will get sorted out this summer."

The main goal, however, is not to repeat the goaltending carousel that has become as much of a Flyers staple as their orange jerseys. This spring they became the first team since the 1988 Detroit Red Wings to win a playoff series by starting three different goaltenders, and it's the second straight spring they've gone through the playoffs using three goalies.

"Until somebody wins a championship here, there's always going to be questions about the goaltending," said Boucher, a 1995 Flyers first-round pick who has spent six of his 11 NHL seasons in Philadelphia. As a rookie during the 1999-2000 season he led the Flyers to the Eastern Conference Finals and was considered the next great Flyer goalie only to be traded two seasons later. "If there's anybody who understands that, it's me. I've been here now for some time. I know exactly how it works, I know what the expectations are. … As long as there's no championships, people will always question it."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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