Flyers goalie Leighton has back strain, with opener a week away

Goaltender Michael Leighton has a lower-back strain.
Goaltender Michael Leighton has a lower-back strain.
Posted: September 28, 2010

General manager Paul Holmgren says he's "not real concerned about" goaltender Michael Leighton's back injury.

Coach Peter Laviolette says he's alarmed.

In other words, yesterday was just another slow day at the Flyers Skate Zone.

"He's not available to us," Laviolette said. "You're alarmed any time you have somebody that's not available to you in the lineup. Injuries, nobody wants them. They take a piece out of what you're trying to do. Everyone wants to start the season healthy. Now, others get opportunities. It's opportunities for others to step up.

"It'd be nice to have Mike available to us, but I'm not sure when that is."

Holmgren said Leighton could return Thursday "at the earliest" for practice. Leighton was forced to leave Friday night's exhibition contest in Toronto because of a flare-up of what Holmgren called a previous injury. Leighton is 1-0 with a 3.64 goals-against average and an .898 save percentage in 99 minutes of preseason work.

"Michael has a lower-back strain, getting a little better," Holmgren said. "But we're going to hold him off the ice, the earliest would be Thursday. We're going to see if we can get this settled down."

On Friday, Holmgren told the Daily News that Leighton strained his back working out this summer. Yesterday, Holmgren said he was not sure if the two were related. Leighton was not available for comment.

"He did have a little bit of an issue this summer," Holmgren said. "We didn't think anything of it at the time. Whether they're related or not, I don't know. We're not real concerned about this. We'll give him a few days. By Thursday, he should be ready to practice."

The Flyers open the regular season in Pittsburgh, a week from Thursday.

Holmgren said Leighton complained that he didn't "have any push off his one leg," which is what nagged Ray Emery last season in what ultimately turned out to be a career-threatening hip injury. Emery, by the way, is not with any team and is still rehabbing. No one has suggested an injury of that magnitude with Leighton, but there is clearly something more to it than something 6 days of rest could cure.

"I don't think he believes this is anything serious, either," Holmgren said. "Sometimes, all you can do is rest and rehab to get ready."

Leighton's injury leaves Brian Boucher and 22-year-old Russian Sergei Bobrovsky to share the remaining four games of the preseason, including tonight's matchup in New Jersey.

Bobrovsky has played 115 impressive minutes in the preseason, with a 1.57 goals-against average and .940 save percentage. He is also 12-for-17 on shootout attempts.

"We'll play the goaltenders that are available to us to start the season," Laviolette said. "We've got two goalies here, those are the goaltenders that you'll see on the ice [tonight]. I think that 'Bob' has done a good job in net, you know, to earn another start. He's played well enough to get that opportunity. [Bobrovsky] has been very good every day. His practices, his scrimmages, they've all been excellent."

Whether it's a coincidence or not, Johan Backlund - the goalie expected to challenge for a backup spot instead of Bobrovsky - was cleared to play yesterday. Backlund, rehabbing from offseason hip surgery, could play as early as Friday.

"Hopefully I'll start to see some action this week," Backlund said. "It's not up to me who is playing, but I feel like I could probably be ready to play [today]."

Unfortunately for Leighton, he doesn't know when he will be able to say the same.

Guerin's progress

Through three preseason games, veteran Bill Guerin seems to have Flyers upper management split as to whether he will earn a contract by the time training camp ends on Oct. 6.

Guerin, 39, scored his first goal as a Flyer on Thursday against Toronto in London, Ontario, and also added a goal in the 11-round shootout.

Paul Holmgren didn't exactly give him a ringing endorsement.

"We're still trying to piece together how things look," Holmgren said. "Some of our young kids have played really well. Ben Holmstrom's been good, [Andreas] Nodl has been good, [Mike] Testwuide played a real good game on Friday night. So, there's a lot of people who are making life difficult on us for decision-making. That's a good thing."

It might not be such a good thing for Guerin, who has 429 goals in 18 NHL seasons. That doesn't mean he's changing his attitude, which already has won over his newest teammates.

"I'm trying to approach it the same way," Guerin said. "I've been successful doing things one way in my career. I would just as soon continue that and not put any added pressure on myself to try to do anything special. I'm a pretty basic player, a simple player. I'm not going to try to do things that I'm not capable of doing."

Slap shots

Paul Holmgren said Chris Pronger is "coming along OK, probably not as fast as he or we would like." Pronger had knee surgery on July 27. Added Holmgren: "We're in no rush. We're not pushing that at all. We've still got another week before we get going for real and I still believe Chris will be ready to start the season" . . . Blair Betts and Ville Leino are cleared for contact and are expected to skate in some of the preseason games this week. *

For more news and analysis, read Frank Seravalli's blog, Frequent Flyers, at

http://go.philly.com/frequentflyers. Follow him on Twitter at

http://twitter.com/DNFlyers.

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