The wisdom of the Philadelphia Flyers’ stubborn goalie philosophy

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As a hockey fan, if you had to choose between consistent (but less brilliant) success or a mixture of dynamic highs and depressing lows, what would you prefer? This might be a generalization, but I’d bet many casual fans would prefer choice B while most hardcore fans would be happier with the first option.

Ultimately, if you believe that a team can have a great season even if they don’t win it all, then the Philadelphia Flyers rank as one of the most well-run franchises in sports, let alone hockey.

Year after year, people casually bury the team’s front office for failing to put an elite goalie between the pipes. Yet if you take a sober look at their near-constant track record of success, you’d come to a humbling conclusion.

Maybe these guys know what they are doing, after all.

Just take a look at the team’s accomplishments since they last won a Stanley Cup during the 1974-75 season.

  • Sure, they didn’t end up winning it all, but the Flyers made it to the Stanley Cup finals on six different occasions since 75, including 2010.
  • They’ve come close plenty of other times, too. They made the Eastern Conference finals five more times and made two losing semifinals appearances in the era when that was the final round before the SCF.
  • They’ve made the playoffs in all but six seasons since 1975. The Flyers missed the playoffs five straight times from 1989-90 to 1993-94 and one other time in that anomaly season in 2006-07. In other words, Philadelphia’s been irrelevant for one half-decade and one weird season since ’75. There aren’t many (if any) teams in sports that can match their consistency.

At least one “reason to believe” per decade

You can’t just claim that the Flyers’ highest moments were Broad Street Bullies overflow, even if the franchise leans toward physical players. In fact, Philly fans have had a reason to think that their team might win a Cup in every decade since the ’70s Bullies.

Ron Hextall in the 1980s: Anyone who says the Flyers ignored the Bernie Parent element to their success probably slept through Hextall’s innovative, angry days. He won a Conn Smythe in defeat and changed the way goalies move the puck. Hextall even fit in with the team’s rough-and-tumble motif as he was the meanest goalie this side of Billy Smith.

The Legion of Doom line in the mid/late 90’s: Concussions issues leave some “What if?” questions about Eric Lindros, but he still spearheaded a line that received the last great nickname. He also won a Hart Trophy and helped them make the Cup finals, even though they were handled easily by the Detroit Red Wings.

Jeremy Roenick/Keith Primeau in the early ’00s: They didn’t have a long run of excellence, but came within a Game 7 loss of reaching the Stanley Cup finals in 2004. The team also showed some promise with Peter Forsberg, but not to the same level.

Current era: They made the conference finals in 2008 (losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins) and obviously lost to the Blackhawks in the finals last year.

Conclusions

Now, I’m not saying that goaltending hasn’t been a problem in Philadelphia. Instead, I’m hypothesizing that the Flyers recognize that the position is among the most unpredictable in sports, preferring to surround them with great draft picks and strong free agent acquisitions.

It’s not like throwing a bunch of money at a goalie guarantees playoff success, either. The Minnesota Wild spent $7 million on two goalies in 2010-11 and didn’t even make the postseason. The Red Wings moved from paying goalies big money to saving in that area once the salary cap was instituted and they haven’t missed a beat.

Deep down, the Flyers brass would love to have more stability in that area and there have been some curious decisions here and there (especially in this year’s playoffs). But if you think that this team is poorly managed, then you’re ignoring decades of success.

Into the fire: Halak, recalled yesterday, starts for Isles in Pittsburgh

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A little scene setting for you.

New York heads into tonight’s massive game in Pittsburgh sitting two points back of Boston for the final wild card in the Eastern Conference. The Isles have two games in hand on the B’s — who are idle tonight — so a win could move them into a playoff spot.

As such, the Isles will start a goalie that hasn’t played in the NHL in 85 days.

Against the league’s highest-scoring offense.

The goalie in question is Jaroslav Halak, who’s spent the last three months playing for the Isles’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport. Recalled yesterday, Halak will now face big league competition for the first time since Dec. 29, when he allowed four goals on 24 shots in a loss to Minnesota.

(Afterward, then-head coach Jack Capuano ripped Halak, saying he gave up “some soft goals to start” and “wasn’t sharp at all.”)

But Halak’s been really good in Bridgeport.

He’s posted a 17-7-1 record with a 2.15 GAA and .925 save percentage, and a pair of shutouts. And given how spotty Berube’s play has been as Greiss’ backup, the Isles really had no other choice than to recall Halak.

The club is in the midst of a compacted part of the schedule. Greiss was excellent in Wednesday’s win over the Rangers — stopping 34 of 36 shots in a 3-2 victory — but he was also busy.

The Isles are in Pittsburgh tonight, then host the Bruins on Saturday — another massive game — then host the Preds on Monday. It’s a compact part of the schedule, and Berube’s struggles have rendered him virtually unplayable, given how meaningful the games are (and, to borrow a timeless cliche, how vital points are at this time of the year.)

So it’s Halak tonight, and possibly more down the stretch.

For Tuukka Rask and the Bruins, a ‘bad goal’ at the worst possible time

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The growing ranks of Tuukka Rask detractors gained some serious ammunition during last night’s loss to Tampa Bay.

The deciding goal in the 6-3 defeat was a “bad one,” according to Rask and most anyone else who was watching.

It may have been a hard shot by Jonathan Drouin, unleashed at the top of the circle, but it still should’ve been stopped.

After the game, Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy told reporters that Rask “needed to be better tonight.”

In fact, Rask hasn’t been very good the past few months. Since Jan. 1, his save percentage is just .888. But with nobody trustworthy behind him, he’s had to just play through his struggles.

It’s impossible to say if Rask’s numbers would be better if the Bruins had a more capable backup. He’d be more rested, though. And when he was struggling, the coach would at least have another option to consider. With an .897 save percentage on the season, Anton Khudobin simply hasn’t been reliable enough to garner that consideration.

Don’t expect Rask to get the next game off. Saturday in Brooklyn, the Bruins — losers of four straight in regulation, and suddenly on the verge of falling out of the playoff picture — face the Islanders in arguably the biggest game of both teams’ seasons.

Bolts recall Koekkoek, putting Garrison’s status into doubt

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The Tampa Bay Lightning, after earning a big win last night in Boston, may not have defenseman Jason Garrison tonight in Detroit.

The Bolts recalled d-man Slater Koekkoek from AHL Syracuse this morning — a move that would seem to put Garrison’s status into doubt against the Red Wings.

Garrison was forced to leave the Bruins game in the second period with a lower-body injury.

Koekkoek has played 29 games for the Lightning this season, recording no goals and four assists.

Melnyk blasts ‘whiner’ Crosby, who won’t face hearing for Methot slash

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Sidney Crosby won’t face a disciplinary hearing for his slash on Ottawa d-man Marc Methot, an NHL spokesman confirmed — news that won’t be welcomed by Sens owner Eugene Melnyk.

The incident occurred during Ottawa’s 2-1 win on Thursday night, and forced Methot from the game with a bloodied, lacerated finger. The club later announced that Methot would be “out for weeks” with the injury.

Crosby’s slash came two nights after he speared Sabres forward Ryan O’Reilly below the belt. It should be noted that neither the O’Reilly spear or Methot slash resulted in penalty calls, and neither was subjected to supplementary discipline.

One individual that’s guaranteed to be upset with today’s news is Melynk. He appeared on TSN 1200 radio this morning and seemed to suggest the league was looking into the Crosby-Methot incident.

He also had a few choice words for No. 87: