Winston Churchill once called Russia, “A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” The same quote could be used to describe the Flyers goalie triumvirate that essentially cost them their 2011 playoff run. An outspoken history buff, Ilya Bryzgalov has surely heard this quote describing his homeland. Ironically enough, in Philadelphia, Bryzgalov will become the solution to the Flyers riddle.
The Flyers were embarrassed by the goaltending “carousel” that developed throughout the 2011 playoffs. Chairman Ed Snider made it clear shortly after the season’s end that the uncertainty and inefficiency between the pipes would not happen again.
The last time the Flyers had a championship caliber goalie was Ron Hextall well over a decade ago. The Flyers fans and the club’s hierarchy seem to agree that now is the time to fill that long-vacated void.
The buzz in Philadelphia for months leading up to the start of the season seems to be more optimistic every year. However, almost every sentence is concluded by something along the lines of, “let’s just hope our goalies can be strong enough to take us all the way.” It is important to note that the word “goalie” is plural as there has not been a concrete starter in Philadelphia since Mr. Hextall left.
The Flyers fans and players both deserve a solution to this goaltending mystery. A look at the current Stanley Cup Finals will show that it is going to take a world-class goaltender to get Philadelphia’s name etched into the legendary hardware a third time. In the same interview in which he boldly declared Philadelphia’s need for a big-name goaltender, Ed Snider also referred to the added confidence in the skaters when there is a dependable goalie behind them:
“When you have stability, like you have a Vezina Trophy probable winner in Tim Thomas this year, who is stopping everything, it gives the guys in front an awful lot of confidence. And they play with more confidence than when you have issues like we had.”
It’s as simple as that. This is why teams build around one very good goalie. Even with the Flyers lethal scoring depth, the team is incomplete without a reliable netminder.
It’s time for a different approach to Flyers hockey. Instead of building off of a Chris Pronger or Danny Briere, Paul Holmgren needs to work outward starting from the crease. Even if Jeff Carter is the unlucky Flyer who will have to pack up and leave in order to sign Bryzgalov, the Flyers offense will still be a high powered arsenal with which to support the 6’3″ Russian backstopper.
Another aspect of Bryzgalov’s repertoire that only a Russian goaltender can offer is a mentor role to budding young star Sergei Bobrovsky. With Bryzgalov in the locker room, Bobrovsky’s English vocabulary may in fact expand from “yes, no, and Bob.”
Ever since the Soviet Red Army team left the ice in the middle of a 1976 exhibition game against the Flyers, a Russian player in Philadelphia has been fairly uncommon. Adding Bryzgalov to the goalie tandem would certainly make Bobrovsky more comfortable in the locker room, and more susceptible to growth on the ice.
It makes sense now why Paul Holmgren allowed top goaltending prospect Joachim Ericsson and newly crowned Memorial Cup champion Jacob Deserres to slip into unrestricted free agency: he was working out a deal to secure a proven NHL goaltender.
This is a start to a changed, more goaltending-driven philosophy in Philadelphia. At least with Bryzgalov as the starter, for the first time in the post-lockout era, the blame for anything less than a Stanley Cup in the city of Brotherly Love can no longer fall on the goalie’s shoulders.