VORHEES, N.J. — Things have been running smoothly on all fronts for the playoff bound Philadelphia Flyers. They’ve remained fairly healthy, proven to be the deepest team in the league, and continue to dominate both ends of the ice.
It’s safe to say the future is looking bright as the playoffs begin to creep closer.
But as the light at the end of the tunnel get’s brighter and brighter, the blinds close in Peter Laviolette’s Vorhees, NJ office. Decisions need to be made. And the head coach puts a lot of thought into them.
Through and through, the Flyers have remained solid. There haven’t been attitude slips or cold streaks. Everyone’s focus is on the task at hand.
There has been one uncertainty all season, though. And unfortunately, it plays a pretty big role in determining the ultimate success of this hockey team.
Since day one, Laviolette has been strapped with two goalies, Sergei Bobrovsky and Brian Boucher. Neither of whom are the clear-cut go-to guy. That’s not to say they aren’t both good — they are — but it gives Lavvy an impossible decision to contemplate as a hint of spring begins to trickle through the air.
Defenseman Chris Pronger says you don’t want to go into the playoffs with the same platoon system you have now. “I think you want to get a guy who’s hot, much like last year,” Pronger said Saturday. “I’m pretty sure we’re going to go with one guy in the playoffs, that’s a given.”
But the question remains, who is that hot guy going to be?
“We still have about 28 or 29 games left here, so I think as we get closer, we’ll start figuring it out,” Pronger said.
To this point, both goaltenders have seen close to equal playing time. Sergei Bobrovsky, the Russian born goaltender playing in his rookie season, has been between the pipes for 34 games, while Boucher has seen time in 23. The decision on who to start seemingly has no pattern to it. But one thing remains a constant — no matter who’s in net, it usually works.
“I just try to have good practices and with the way [Laviolette’s] been rotating us, it’s easy to stay in it and stay ready,” Boucher said. “If you don’t play for a game or two games, you know you’re eventually going to get in there. So, it’s good in that sense. … It’s a nice situation we have right now, so hopefully we can keep playing the way we’re playing and give our team a chance.”
Still, even he admits he’s sometimes caught off guard by the coach’s decision.
“I think the way it’s been going, you can sort of predict it. That’s not to say that I haven’t been caught off guard a few times — I certainly have been. But for the most part, you get a feeling for when you may play,” Boucher said.
Day-to-day, multiple factors swirl through Laviolette’s head before he comes out and announces his sometimes calculated, often times unpredictable decision. At the end of the day, both guy’s stand behind him and say that his system works. They stay fresh, but never fall out of practice.
“A lot of times we look at how their past performance was, how they’re doing in practice, if they’re healthy, the opponent, their record against the opponent, the opponent’s tendencies and we factor everything in and talk about it,” Laviolette said.
A lot of the system’s success goes back to the two players’ willingness to sit a game or two out on the bench. There’s no me-first mentality. Of course both players want to be out there, but they echo the same sentiment that is etched onto the Flyers’ locker room wall: “You play for the crest on the front, not the name on the back.”
Bobrovsky was not available for comment due to the language barrier, but he has certainly shown no signs of frustration with his playing time. Boucher, a leader in the Flyers locker room, is not afraid to voice his support for Bobrovsky and his willingness to buy into Lavvy’s system.
“Bob played a long stretch there early on in the season and got them going and they really got to see what he really could do. For me, that was a time when I really wanted to play, but you just have to be a team guy and you have to be supportive of your partner and that was a chance for me to get some good practice time in there and then I was able to contribute and I started to feel good about things,” Boucher said.
However tough the ultimate choice might be, things seem to go Laviolette’s way, no matter which name he calls.
“Right now, either decision is a good decision,” as the coach put it.
But selecting a guy may not be quite as easy once April rolls around. Flyers fans will just have to hope Laviolette keeps his incredible track record in tact when the decision becomes much more meaningful.