Leighton looks to solidify his standing with Flyers

Flyers goalie Michael Leighton talks to reporters after training-camp practice on Saturday."I want to continue on what I did last year and establish myself in this league," he said.
Flyers goalie Michael Leighton talks to reporters after training-camp practice on Saturday."I want to continue on what I did last year and establish myself in this league," he said.
Posted: September 19, 2010

For a decade, the Flyers have had a revolving door at goaltender.

John Vanbiesbrouck, Robert Esche, Antero Niittymaki, Sean Burke, and Ray Emery are just a few of the 15 goalies who patrolled the crease since former Flyers great Ron Hextall played in the 1998-99 campaign.

If it's up to current starter Michael Leighton, that roll call won't increase any time soon. During the current training camp, the 29-year-old is focused on becoming a Flyers mainstay.

"I want to continue on what I did last year and establish myself in this league," Leighton said Saturday following the camp's first on-ice practice at the Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees.

He compiled a 16-5-2 regular-season record last season after being acquired via waivers on Dec. 15 from the Carolina Hurricanes. He also had a 2.48 goals-against average, a .918 save percentage and a shutout in 27 appearances.

But Leighton struggled in the Stanley Cup Finals with a 3.96 goals-against average and an .870 save percentage as the Chicago Blackhawks won the series, four games to two.

"It's done. It's over with," he said of the Finals performance. "It's not like I can change the result."

There was speculation the Flyers would look to upgrade the position via free agency. Instead, they decided to stick with Leighton, signing him to a two-year, $3.1 million deal on June 30.

"It definitely gives you more confidence, knowing the team has more confidence in you," he said.

Even with the vote of confidence, Leighton is approaching camp as if there are no guarantees.

"I want to earn my spot," he said. "Either way, you are starting the season. You want to do well and kind of show what you can do. That's pretty much what I have to do in training camp, too."

Dominant line in the making? Center Jeff Carter, left winger James van Riemsdyk, and right winger Nikolai Zherdev worked on the same line Saturday.

Zherdev, a Ukraine native, played last season for the Atlant-Moscow Mystishchi of Russia's Kontinental Hockey League. Before that, he had NHL stops with the Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Rangers.

"That was good," Carter said of the players' first shift together. "I think Niky, you can pretty much tell right from Day 1 that he has a lot of skill. We will see if things click."

Carter and van Riemsdyk had to help Zherdev in certain drills he wasn't familiar with.

"We were kind of getting [him] more comfortable with things," Carter said. "And when he starts to fit in, I think it's going to be good."

Pronger works out. As expected, Chris Pronger, who had minor surgery on his right knee on July 27, didn't participate in Saturday's practice. However, the defenseman did work out for about 40 minutes on the ice before practice.

The 35-year-old performed drills with injured forwards Blair Betts (shoulder) and Ville Leino (hip) and injured goaltender Johan Backlund (hip) for about 30 minutes. After Betts, Leino, and Backlund returned to the locker room, Pronger skated on the ice for 10 minutes. Pronger may not be able to play in the season opener in Pittsburgh.

Betts and Leino both donned yellow jerseys at practice, signifying they weren't cleared for contact drills. Backlund didn't practice with the team.

Packed house. It appears that Philadelphia-area fans are still "Flyered Up" about last season's playoff run.

Over 1,800 fans attended Saturday's training camp session. It was arguably the largest practice crowd in the 10 years the Flyers have been practicing at the Skate Zone.

A standing-room-only crowd filled the practice rink during the first session. The lobby was also flooded with fans donning Flyers paraphernalia. Outside, cars had to be turned away in the parking lot.


Contact staff writer Keith Pompey at 610-313-8029 or kpompey@phillynews.com.

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