After a positive response to my last blog, I figured I would take another crack at one. And I decided to pick a topic that was near and dear to my heart, goaltending.
Many moons ago, (yes, MANY moons, Lisa), I used to be a decent puckstopper. I used to live for the feelings associated with stopping a breakaway, throwing up an unconventional two-pad stack, a rapid reflex induced glove save, and the pillow tap of a grateful D-man. Nowadays, my knees remind me (and a couple surgeries) that my body may never be able to do those things again, much less was ever meant to do it. That is why I agreed to join a friends A-level team in DC...because I miss it, and that will ALWAYS win out over the stiffness in the morning...and it isn't the GOOD kind of stiffness.
All that being said, I want to comment on some of the views presented by fellow Flyers fans about the idea that Biron has fallen off a cliff when it comes to his ability to stop the puck, and that Niittymaki is the clear-cut number 1 in Philadelphia.
First of all, Biron's issues are exactly as they are presented by Flyers goalie coach Reggie Lemelin. It is mental, NOT his abilities. Marty is having issues with over-thinking on the ice, and this stems from early season issues that have always been in the back of his head. Most of us remember that Marty was very aggressive playing the puck during the first month of the season...and more than a few times, it got him (and his D-men) in trouble. I think (and this is just my opinion) that during certain parts of the season when Marty tied this small part of his confidence to his ability to play the puck in his own zone, he sowed the seeds of his own mental issues.
As a past goaltender, I can tell you that we tie some of the simplest and strangest things to our "off-the-wall" personalities and our game confidence. For some reason, Marty has related his ability to play the puck to his comfort level in the crease...and he has to take a step back and just worry about his positioning and rebound control which have always been his strengths. The more facets he adds to those simple rules, the longer this funk will take to get out of. The hardest thing for me to process for Biron is that he picks his puck handling as something he needs to do well in order to play well. Marty Biron has never been Marty Brodeur or Marty Turco when it comes to playing the puck, so why tie so much of his mental confidence to something so unfamiliar?
In contrast, Niittymaki has tied his confidence to something he knows works well for him, his glove hand, which has been absolutely stellar. You can tell by the way he snaps it off. Antero is playing well because he hasn't been criticized for his huge rebounds (which are there folks...often)...all he is being asked to do is stop the puck 1 more time than the other guy. What scares me with all this media pressure to create a clear-cut number 1 goaltender is the same thing that scared me last year. Niittymaki has never been able to handle the pressure associated with being a clear-cut number 1 goalie. And the reason...it makes him THINK too much about the small things...and this relates to maturity.
Antero is definitely coming into the prime of his career, and this year may finally see him able to handle the pressure. But as it stands, do you think that Coach Stevens is ready to believe that? If you read his non-committal responses, it almost seems as if he is protecting his goaltenders pysche. On the other hand, Coach Lemelin feels that Niittymaki is ready for that pressure and is answering those questions directly.
What is all boils down to is the same question that has plagued the Flyers since the departure of Hexy...will Antero or Marty FINALLY take the mantle of backstopping this team to a championship? One that has been so often extended to them?
That fans, is the type of question that makes my belief in this team's chances for a Stanley Cup waiver, ever so slightly.
I want to believe in another Flyers Championship!