NAME: Michael Leighton
Regular Season Statistics: 26 Games Started – 16 Wins, 5 Losses, 2 OTLs. 2.48 GAA, .918 SV %, 1 Shutout.
Analysis: Michael Leighton was just your typical, run of the mill journeyman goaltender who latched onto a team this past season at the right time and was virtually the largest reason they made a postseason push. Happens all the time, right? Wrong. When Leights joined the Flyers early in this season, the team’s goaltending carousel was already in full spinning motion. Ray Emery had already suffered his first setback of the season, and Brian Boucher was struggling with a lacerated finger that kept him out of the goal. In walks Leighton, and all he proceeded to do was steal the show, and net career bests in virtually every single statistical category that a goaltender can register numbers in. After previously beginning this season as Cam Ward’s back-up for the lowly Carolina Hurricanes, Leighton was waived and it was at that time that the Flyers claimed his rights and stuck him in goal. Both the Flyers and Leighton never looked back. Up until a freak high ankle sprain against Nashville ended his regular season in mid-March, Leighton was arguably the Flyers MVP the entire second half of the season.
Postseason Statistics: 13 Games Started – 8 Wins, 3 Losses. 2.46 GAA, .916 SV %, 3 Shutouts.
Analysis: Leights returned from his high ankle sprain to see that his starting goaltender position had been won over by Brian Boucher, and that Boosh was doing fairly well in between the pipes as the 33-year-old netminder guided the Flyers to a four games to one series win over the Devils. However, in round two, both the Flyers and Boucher faltered, and fell into a 3-0 hole against the Boston Bruins. Boosh was able to help the Flyers to victory in Game four to stave off elimination, but in Game Five, Boosh’s series ended when he sprained his MCL during a scramble in the goal-mouth. Enter Michael Leighton. Once again, Leighton stepped in the crease and never looked back, helping the Flyers make history and erase the 3-0 deficit into a 4-3 series win and a berth in the Eastern Conference Finals. From there, Leighton recorded three shutouts – tying Bernie Parent’s playoff record for a single series – as the Flyers won their first Eastern Conference crown since 1997. While he was shaky at times during the Cup Final, there’s no doubt that Leighton was the main reason the Flyers had gotten there.
FINAL GRADE: B+
Reasoning: Many people are saying that we have already seen Michael Leighton’s best effort, and he simply can’t get better than what we saw last season. While I don’t necessarily disagree with the notion that his success was unprecedented, I do disagree that the performance Leights turned in last spring was, while remarkable, the end of the line as far as his capability is concerned. Instead, I think that Leighton will use all the doubters as inspiration, and really work hard this off-season towards putting together a respectable campaign in 2010-2011. He was great when the Flyers needed him to be this past season, and when you take a step back and look at the bigger picture, he ultimately took the Flyers from 29th place out of 30 in the entire National Hockey League to just a mere two wins away from the Stanley Cup in the same season. Will the doubters be able to argue against that fact? I strongly doubt it.