Flyers need Bryzgalov to be consistent moving forward

Flyers need Bryzgalov to be consistent moving forward
February 27, 2013, 11:30 pm
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Ilya Bryzgalov made 23 saves in the Flyers' 4-1 win over the Capitals on Wednesday. (USA Today Images)

He looked good. That was a regular thing to begin the season. It has not been such a regular thing recently.

The Flyers beat the Washington Capitals, 4-1, on Wednesday at the Wells Fargo Center (see story). Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Simon Gagne and Max Talbot accounted for the four part of the score. Ilya Bryzgalov took care of the rest. He would have had a shutout, but Joel Ward pushed one past him with barely two minutes left in the game. These things happen.

“He was sharp [Wednesday], especially early on when they had a power play and some early opportunities,” Peter Laviolette said. “There were some tricky plays through the slots, a couple of redirects, and he was sharp. There wasn’t a lot of work, maybe 10 quality chances. But, early on, when you want your team to build a lead and shutdown your opponent, you always need saves from your goaltender.”

Bryzgalov made 23 saves against the Caps. Late in the second period, he lunged, covered the puck and ended up on his stomach, face down. It was an excellent effort. The fans cheered. Some of them stood to applaud. There was a time, not long ago, when Bryzgalov fell on his face pretty frequently, only it wasn’t such a good thing then.

A year ago, Bryzgalov looked lost for long stretches of the regular season and playoffs. You know the narrative: He struggled to start the year. He got benched for the Winter Classic. He surrendered an average of 3.6 goals over five games against New Jersey in the postseason. Bryzgalov wasn’t the reason the Flyers lost that series -- but he didn’t do all that much to help them win it, either.

For much of his first year in Philly, he was just a guy. His most memorable moments were off ice. They were fun to read about or listen to, but that was his biggest contribution -- an entertainment value that had far less to do with stopping pucks than the Flyers or their fans would have liked.

Those troubles seemed to be behind him this year. He started the season well even though his team and his teammates didn’t. The defense looked spotty but Bryzgalov kept the Flyers in games and helped them win a few, too. That was a rare thing a year ago -- games that Bryzgalov won almost single-handedly by playing big and making the net small.

Before the Caps game, though, Bryzgalov had a bit of a backslide. His advocates will point out that the defense in front of him hasn’t been consistent, and they are right. His detractors will point out that top-tier goaltenders make sometimes-shoddy defense look much better, and they are right, too.

Whichever camp you claim, these are the facts: In the 10 games before facing Washington, Bryzgalov allowed three, three, four, five, zero, four, two, four, three and two goals, respectively. Some of those bloated figures weren’t all his fault. But, again, he didn’t do a whole lot to play like a superior goaltender worth $51 million.

It makes you wonder which way it will go moving forward. Which Bryz will be in net for the Flyers? Consistent or inconsistent, solid or somewhat soft, good or not-so-great?

“I’ve always been confident,” Bryzgalov insisted on Wednesday.

He has started 20 of the team’s 22 games this season and he leads all goaltenders in minutes. That’s a positive sign even if the results haven’t always been. As of Wednesday, Bryzgalov was 27th in the NHL in goals against and 31st in save percentage.

It is a short season and it is almost halfway over. The Flyers can make the playoffs without Bryzgalov performing as one of the game’s best goaltenders. They can reach the postseason with a goalie that is just a guy. They have done it before. They have done it for years.

What they have not done, not for many years -- more than three-and-a-half decades worth of years for those of you counting (and sobbing) at home -- is win a Stanley Cup with a goalie that is anything less than stellar. For the Flyers to get deep into the postseason and hoist the giant, silver shiny trophy that everyone lusts after, they will need Bryzgalov to earn his rubbles. He did that on Wednesday. He needs to keep doing it.

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