Defending Brian Boucher
by Tyler J. Altemose
If you’ve been a Flyers fan for anything less than the past eleven years you’re probably under the impression that we’ve never had a solid starting goaltender. Well, as shocking as it may be to comprehend that is actually not true.
Since Ron Hextall’s retirement in 1999, however, the Flyers have seemed to go through more goaltenders than Joey Chestnut goes through hot dogs on July 4th.
With the emersion of Russian rookie netminder Sergei Bobrovsky to the NHL this season, that eleven year dry spell has seemed to come to an end. Finally the Flyers have a solid starting goaltender.
Well, there’s another guy who has been suiting up for the orange and black for the past two seasons now. And he doesn’t seem to be getting a lot of respect. Why is that?
I’m talking about Brian Boucher, of course. “Boosh”, who was drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft and was ironically a part of the goaltending carousel himself from 1999-2002, was reacquired by the Flyers to a two year deal which concludes at the end of this season.
If you ask the typical Flyers fan (you know, the ones led by blind faith, sippin’ on the orange Kool-Aid and listening to “Bro Hymn”), they’ll tell you that Boosh lost both of his games this season and his record was really bad last season, and that Bobrovsky is was undefeated. So naturally Bobrovsky is the future and needs to be our starting goaltender, and once Michael Leighton recovers from surgery we need to get rid of Boucher.
Well, I’ll give them this much: Boucher’s record last season was, for lack of a better term, abysmal. Per ESPN.com, Boucher had 31 games last season. He went 9-20-2. That’s a .290 win percentage, never mind the fact that he’s 0-1-1 this season.
But there is much more to it than that.
[Note: There’s some ambiguity between ESPN.com and NHL.com in terms of what constitutes a game played as opposed to just a start. I’m not sure if it means games that were completed or not. I decided to go with ESPN.com because, unlike NHL.com, it gave a breakdown of the goaltender from each game.]
Looking at records, the “Boucher bashers” seem to have numbers on their side (if by "numbers" you mean "record").
And then along came yours truly.
I looked back on last season’s numbers and tried to see if I could find some evidence as to why Boucher was so gosh darn bad. Well, what I found turned out to be pretty interesting. Let me explain.
This is a little project I like to call “Defending Brian Boucher”.
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Tyler, Boosh went 9-20-12 last season. How can you defend that record?
Well, kind sir/ma’am, let’s break that record down. Of the 31 games he had last season, Boosh had 13 at home and 18 away.
At home Boosh went 4-8-1. Not very good, but I’ll explain this a little later down the road.
Speaking of the road, Boosh went 5-12-1 on the road. Why is that of any importance?
Because in 2009-10, the Flyers combined, in regulation and extra time, for 24 road losses; the worst the team has done since their less than spectacular season in 2006-07. If Boosh only lost a combined 13 games, there are 11 others that are unaccounted for. Blame needs to be spread across the whole team and not just thrown on Boosh.
But Boosh is clearly a sloppy goaltender who is past his prime. He can’t handle it anymore.
Well, I agree with the sentiment that he isn’t starting goaltender material (at least for an entire season). [Neither is Bobrovsky, but this article isn’t about him.] But look at this:
Boucher had a SV% over .900 in 17 games that he played in (that’s over half of them for those of you keeping track), including a shutout against the Toronto Maple Leafs on April 6. That means that for every ten shots fired against him, Boosh would stop 9.
In the games that Boosh started, we averaged 28 SA (shots against) per game. By those numbers he averaged about 3 goals allowed per game with that decent SV%. That isn’t spectacular, but there’s more.
In the games mentioned, our offense only scored 2 G/G (goals per game).
That’s right, folks: even when Boucher did well (.900 SV% or better), the team still didn’t score enough goals to help Boucher get the win.
Speaking of shooting, the Flyers were outshot by their opponent in 10 of Boosh’s games. Again, if your offense isn’t contributing you aren’t going to win. That includes both scoring as well as chances. You have to start somewhere, and it didn’t seem like the offense wanted to start at all.
Wait a minute. Are you seriously blaming the offense here?
In a way, yes, but I am really just trying to take some of the blame off of Boucher’s shoulders. See, there are other reasons why Boosh’s record looks like it does. The (lack of) offense is a big reason.
So what’s so bad about the offense?
For starters, the Flyers were shut out 6 times Boucher played. In 7 other games, the Flyers managed only 1 goal. 13 times the Flyers scored less than two goals in a game.
You’re not going to win with an anemic offense.
Remember that 3 GA/G (goals against per game) average I told you about when Boosh had a .900 SV% or better? Well, the Flyers only managed more than three goals for 7 of those starts.
Listen, folks: when your team can only outscore their opponent 7 times your goaltender is having a good game and when they're being consistently outshot, perhaps you shouldn’t look at the goaltender to explain why the team lost.
8 of Boosh’s games (+25%) were lost by only a single goal. Sure, you can easily say…
Maybe if Boosh was a better goalie we wouldn’t have lost by one goal.
…but you could also say that if our offense scored more goals this wouldn’t have been a problem. Or if the defense played better this wouldn't have happened.
A goaltender is a team's last line of defense. There are two men at a time doing that job in front of him, and three others who should know to transition and help out the other two. We need all five skaters on the ice contributing to our defensive game.
Instead, for many of Boosh's starts it seemed like he was working against two teams.
Again, it’s about sharing responsibility here.
Speaking of the offense, what about our PP under Boosh? Well, we had a total of 111 PP opportunities in Boosh’s games.
We scored on 18.
That’s right. We had a .162 PP% under Boosh.
You can’t blame the goalie if your forwards can’t score, let alone with an extra man.
* * *
So there you have it: my defense of Brian Boucher. Mind you, I only hinted once (briefly) at the defensive breakdowns. Obviously given GM Paul Holmgren’s moves in the offseason, that ended up being a concern for us.
There are also the intangibles. Boosh took over for Michael Leighton after the latter suffered a high ankle sprain against the Nashville Predators on 16 March. Not only did Boosh come in cold during a critical juncture in the season, but he did so and managed to help the team make the playoffs.
Once in the playoffs, Boosh gained retribution against the New Jersey Devils in the first playoff series, outperforming Martin Brodeur.
I’m going to let that sink in for a moment.
Not only that, but look at how it all started. Boosh came back to Philly at the beginning of last season fully willing to be a backup to Ray Emery. It was thanks to Boucher that many fans thought we had finally ended the “who is our number one goalie” problem.
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I know there are going to be many who read this and just don’t care. They’re still going to say what they will about Boosh.
But this article isn’t for them as much as it just addresses them. This article is actually for those people who don’t know much about our goaltending situation or Boosh. This article is for people who support Boosh as a player but find themselves bombarded by fans who think they know better.
But mostly, this article is for all of those Flyers fans out there who are sick of all of the negative talk about Brian Boucher; for those of us who really appreciate his role on the team and understand how vital he was to our success last season. It’s for all of us who can see below the surface and know that his record isn’t completely his fault. It's for those of us who understand the concept of winning and losing as a team.
Here’s to you, Boosh!
One hive, y’all.