If history is any indicator, Sergei Bobrovsky should be starting in goal at the Winter Classic for the Philadelphia Flyers. The struggles of prize goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov have been well documented all over Philadelphia and shown on HBO’s 24/7 series as well.
Bryzgalov can’t be 100% to blame for his recent struggles as the defense has played poorly in front of him in many of his starts. However, he needs to be better, plain and simple. Bryzgalov himself knows this and usually isn’t afraid to say it.
Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette had a little bit of a similar situation in the 2010 Winter Classic at Fenway Park in Boston. Brian Boucher had recently returned from injury and he was the 2nd string goaltender and the hometown guy. Top goalie Ray Emery was injured at the time as well so Boosh was supposed to be the guy. However, in Boosh’s absence 3rd string goalie Michael Leighton went on a hot streak and got the nod in the Winter Classic that the Flyers eventually went on to lose 2-1 in OT.
Bobrvosky’s save percentage, a goaltender’s most important stat, is .914. While not elite, it’s still a very respectable save percentage. However, compared to Bryzgalov’s .890 it’s almost 25 points higher. The team seems to be playing better in front of Bobrovsky this year too which is another argument to why he should be starting the game. Bobrovsky has a 2.52 goals-against-average while Bryzgalov has a 3.01.
In the past couple of weeks whenever someone spoke about Bryzgalov possibly not starting the Winter Classic the argument was that he would start because of the 51 million reasons (the amount the Flyers committed to Bryzgalov in the offseason) and everyone would gasp when someone suggested otherwise. Now it’s looking like Bobrovsky may have a 50/50 shot at starting this game.
There’s also an argument out there from some that you risk “losing” Bryzgalov mentally if he doesn’t get this start. But one could also argue the opposite. One could argue that it will fire Bryzgalov up to be the goalie he needs to be for this team to have any shot at a Stanley Cup run this spring. And honestly, if Bryzgalov would be “lost” after not getting a start to a game, how dependable could he be professionally anyway?
Laviolette needs to take the Winter Classic on January 2nd for what it is: a game. And it’s not just a regular game. It’s a divisional game for first place. It’s also a game against a team that has beaten the Flyers in the last two regular season games leading up to this, and the Flyers desperately need a win versus New York. These divisional points are critical when you look back at the end of the season.
Laviolette proved in 2010 he wasn’t afraid to make a decision that wouldn’t be popular with certain players, and he’s proved that many times since (i.e. healthy scratching James van Riemsdyk at points last season).
Laviolette since coming to Philadelphia has made the right decisions most of the time even if it was a tough thing to do. Will he do it Monday? Time will tell, but we will have a much better idea tomorrow when the Flyers hit the ice for practice.
One thing seems clear here: Sergei Bobrovsky deserves to start this game. But will he?