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.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.)
"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."
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.)