You know the story of goaltending in Philadelphia. You have seen Ilya Bryzgalov’s media meltdowns. And you know his numbers this season – 16-9-3, with a 3.01 goals-against-average in 28 starts. There’s no question he hasn’t lived up to expectations as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers but is the city giving its $51 million offseason acquisition a fair chance to prove he can solidify the toughest job in the city?
It was only six months ago that Philadelphia Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren finally made an appeasing move to solidify the team’s goaltending, signing the 31-year-old Bryzgalov to a nine-year contract that made him the highest paid player at his position. After the signing, the Russia native said all of the right things in his transition from the small market of Phoenix to Philadelphia, a city that prides itself in a rich hockey history.
“I want to help this team win the Stanley Cup because people in Philadelphia and the organization have waited long enough,” he said at the time.
It seemed as though the position of goaltender was no longer a position to worry about but now – just over three months into the first year of his contract – the fans are already letting the goaltender know just what’s on their minds. One reason for the Bryzgalov bashing could be because of the revolving door of goaltenders that came before him who pretty much made the term free-pass extinct.
Maybe Philadelphia should change its motto from “the city of brotherly love” to “what have you done for me lately.”
There have been plenty of distractions for Bryzgalov between the Winter Classic and the HBO series 24/7 Flyers-Rangers: Road to the NHL Winter Classic. While he was loved for his “humongous big” rants on camera about the universe, his Siberian huskies and Russian alcohol, Bryzgalov’s play began to decline, leading to his benching for the Winter Classic – a game that was his to start since joining the Flyers.
In his last 10 starts, Bryzgalov has as many wins as losses and if you haven’t taken to your favorite social media website after a Flyers loss, fans are not pleased with their goaltender. No one has their hand on the panic button just yet but it is safe to say it’s beginning to get to that point. And after goaltenders like Roman Cechmanek, Robert Esche and Brian Boucher can you blame them?
Bryzgalov is a little bit of a different breed though. The guy was a runner-up for the Vezina trophy – awarded to the top NHL goaltender during the season – two years ago, putting up impressive numbers on a Coyotes team that didn’t have too much defensive talent in front of him. Too quick, people look for a scapegoat during a losing skid or a stretch of bad games and for the Flyers it almost always falls on the goaltenders shoulders.
But the defense has been as much to blame lately as Bryzgalov.
The Flyers defense has been built around two All-Star veterans – Kimmo Timonen and Chris Pronger – but when Pronger went down with a virus turned concussion, it put added pressure – and playing time – on the younger guys to step up their game. It’s not to say that they haven’t played well, in fact Andrej Meszaros is proving he can continue to play over 20 minutes a game on the top pairing but with all the inexperience on the other pairings there comes plenty of mistakes, the biggest of which seem to be turnovers. Traffic in front of the net is another cause for concern, as the Flyers have had a tough time clearing their opposition from the front of the net which has led to plenty of chances and has seemed to lead to an increase in garbage goals.
While it isn’t fair to expect Bryzgalov to make every save, the great goaltenders always make the big saves and although he has managed to do that with some frequency this season, there are 51 million other reasons to be disappointed in his play. Throughout history, the position of goaltender has always been a bit finicky and netminders are often out there mentally – Bryzgalov is no different. When he is good, there aren’t many better but when he is bad, it seems as though he could let a beach ball past him. No matter what the result he is always under a microscope.
With the playoffs about three months away, Bryzgalov has plenty of time to figure out what is hindering performance, whether it has something to do with his game or it is something mentally, as the pressure of a city hungry to hoist the cup builds. If he can get hot come spring Philadelphia might be poised to make a strong run the cup, either way hopefully he has learned he isn’t in Phoenix anymore and this year it’s a whole new animal!