I saw Niitty Play 3 times This year. I was there the night they won the Calder cup! I have to say he is AWSOME! So are the rest of the guys on the Phantoms! He made some awsome saves through out the whole year , and those whole two goals he let in that night where nothing! While i like Esche ,i really hope Niitty gets some playing time this year , it be a shame for him to sit on the bench all year!
As always, I love a true competition for number one goalie, as I think each man vying for the spot can drive the other to greater heights.
If Esche has not significantly improved his rebound control, then I am pulling for Niittymaki to unseat him by the Olympic break.
If he cannot, and Esche has not corrected the technical flaw I mentioned, then we are in trouble. I also recall shooters from TB going glove hand on Robert. That's another area for him to prepare for.
Unless Esche changes his style, his rebounds will always be his weakness. All goalies in the NHL today are hybrid goaltenders, but Esche relies on the stand up side of that hybrid style much, much more than the butterfly style. The only time you see Esche execute a butterfly drop consistently is when the shooter is in front of him in the slot. If the shot has angle to it, Esche almost always elects to stand up and plug all of his gaps, and stop the puck. It gives the shooter literally nothing to shoot at and he always makes the first save this way, but it does inherently give up large rebounds, and that probably won't change.
However, all goaltenders have weakness. I think the reason why the Flyers traded for Esche is because he doesn't have too many of them, and is a pretty technically sound goaltender. He covers the net well, plays the angles well, and has good reflexes, the rebounds are his real flaw. But, like I said, it's something he can live with and still be a successful goalie. When he's in the zone, like he was in the playoffs last season, he can really give the team a great chance to win. I don't think any of us here would blame him for losing that series against Tampa Bay. If eh can maintain that level of play, this team will not be able to use him as an excuse.
Niittymaki is interesting. When he was still considered a prospect by HF, the writer of his page coined a comparison to Tommy Salo, and I think that's fitting. Neither of them are big goaltenders (Niittymaki at 6'0", Salo at 5'11") and must rely on other things to get the job done. Stylistically, they look similar, as they both play that European hybrid reflex style and rely heavily on their position and reflexes to stop the puck. Niittymaki has a real flashy glove hand too, so I'm sure you'll enjoy seeing that.
Niittymaki is obviously the more talented goaltender. The only thing that's separating him from the starting job is that he hasn't proven anything at the NHL level. Chances are up until about the Olympic Break, they split time pretty evenly. Esche has never been a workhorse in net, and is prone to little aches and pains that keep him out of the lineup for a couple games every now and then. I think Niittymaki will then get a chance if they split time evenly, but in the end I think Hitchcock will go with Esche in to the playoffs because of his experience. The only way I see Niittymaki starting in the post-season is if Esche is hurt, or he plays significantly better for an extended period of time.
It is true that we can nitpick Esche or almost any other goalie to death, but I do feel that he still has a responsibility to improve in this area, style issues or not.
As we did see in the playoffs last time, when the defense is committed to boxing out the crease and our forwards are collapsing, then the rebound control isn't as much of an issue. The team should theoretically be even better at it this season.
I did not intend to suggest I haboured blame towards Esche for anything. Specifically, he had no goal support in game 7 vs TB, and anything that went before that still had the team at that stage.
I agree that Hitchcock will favour Esche unless it is a landslide performance by Niittymaki. If he pulls it off, though, we will surely be pleased.