Thursday, April 20, 2006

Robert Esche is a good goaltender

Ahem. It had to be said.

There seems to be a real dearth of Flyers fans in the hockey blogosphere here to defend their team, and from the reaction to my playoff predictions, one would think Philadelphia's planning to use a moth-eaten shooter tutor in goal in the first round. On-line pundits reacted like coach Ken Hitchcock had spun his head around Exorcist-style when he named Bob Esche as his starter for the playoffs.

The thing is, Esche has a better record and save percentage than rookie Antero Niittymaki this season. He was also fifth among all goaltenders in goals-against average in 2003-04, and the guy who led the Flyers' run in 2004 to Game 7 of the conference finals against Tampa Bay.

Who else would Hitchcock start?

Now, Esche isn't the kind of goaltender who is going to steal games or intimidate the opposition. But he's still solid and has been playing well down the stretch (better, I would argue, than Sabres netminder Ryan Miller), and considering how low an opinion many have of him, is one of the more underrated 'tenders in the playoffs.

The big plus for Esche (or Nittymaki, should he play) is the strength of the blueline in front of him. Even with all of this team's injuries, the Flyers were 9th in shots allowed. And while Kim Johnsson and Chris Therrien aren't expected to be able to return from their concussions in time for this series, a top six of Hatcher-Rathje-Pitkanen-Meyer-Desjardins-Gauthier looks pretty solid to me.

UPDATE Here's an interesting piece from yesterday on Esche that I'd missed from the Philadelphia Daily News:

Esche would like to play the way he did in the 2004 postseason, but he said he does not plan to reprise his "Silent Bob" routine from that spring. Esche, then new to the team and the city, took exception to something written about him and did not speak to reporters during that playoff run.

"It was really my first experience with the media in general. I took something to heart that I probably shouldn't have... That was just stupid, because you can't worry about that stuff... I've actually had a lot of learning experiences the last couple of years," said Esche, who dealt with reporters during the lockout as the team player rep. "I'll never be like I was in '04 again."
I didn't realise this was the case, as when the Flyers played in Toronto in the second round, Esche was (reluctantly) talking to the media. (I know because I talked to him after their Game 4 loss.)

Does anyone know what was written about Esche? And when did it happen?

(It's a common refrain from NHLers that they 'don't read the papers,' but for the most part that's an out and out lie. Players know what's being said about them, and they even talk about it amongst themselves — if only so they can be careful of what they say with certain media personalities listening.)


At 10:22 p.m., April 20, 2006, Blogger John said...

Esche is solid, and he's earned the starting job over the last couple weeks.

Problem right now on D is that Rathje and Hatcher are both playing hurt. Rathje has a hip issue and Hatcher has a knee problem.

At 1:28 a.m., April 21, 2006, Anonymous Mike said...

With Esche and Niittymaki, their stats this year are way too close to try to say one is better than the other. .895 vs .897 that’s about identical. Sure Niitty lost 4 more games, he also played 6 more with one more shout out than Esche.

Reasons why many Flyers fans like Niitty.
2005 Calder Cup Championship Playoff MVP, 3 shutouts in the Olympics, Silver Medal and tournament MVP. He gets up for big games, his AHL playoff stats were better than his regular season stats. His calming presence in net.

Esche’s regular season play this year was worse than last. His Olympics performance. He hasn’t won anything, at any level. Too emotional, Cechmanek like moment against the Devils last week.

Personally I’d rather see Niittymaki in net, but it won’t matter if the Flyers don’t play smart defensively in front of whoever is in goal.

At 9:18 a.m., April 21, 2006, Anonymous Dennis Prouse said...

I also have to laugh when I hear players claim they don't pay attention to the media. Pat Riley loves to tell the stories about road trips with the Lakers -- in airport lounges, the first thing the players would search out was the sports section of any abandoned newspapers lying around. (The irony was doubled when you thought about millionaire NBA players scrounging a free newspaper rather than paying fifty cents at the shop 100 yards away.)

At 1:03 p.m., April 21, 2006, Blogger Matt said...

Mike pretty much hits the nail on the head here with why we like Niittymaki over Esche. I would also throw in Esche's "concession" of the starting playoff job a couple weeks back and how he backed Hitchcock into a corner. Actions speak louder than words, and Esche's actions don't come across as a team guy. Meanwhile, Niittymaki shows up, day in and day out, doesn't say much and gets the job done. Needless to say, my vote would've been for Niittymaki, too.

At 2:53 p.m., April 21, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

esche was pissed last post-season over an article previewing the PHI v NJD series. The series basically said he was nothing compared to Broduer and would be the reason the Flyers would lose that series. we won in 6 (or 5, i think). check out's sports/flyers section. they have some articles about it.


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