Flyers need Bryzgalov to be consistent moving forward

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Flyers need Bryzgalov to be consistent moving forward

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.

Flyers-Islanders 5 things: Still trying to clean up mistakes after bye week

Flyers-Islanders 5 things: Still trying to clean up mistakes after bye week

Flyers (22-19-6) at Islanders (19-17-8)
6 p.m. – CSN/CSNPhilly.com and streaming live on the NBCSports app; Pregame Live begins at 5:30.
 
The struggling Flyers head north Sunday night to battle the Metropolitan Division rival Islanders at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
 
Let’s take a closer look at Sunday’s matchup.
 
1. New week, same Flyers
Those hoping the Flyers would be a refreshed, recharged team after the bye week met a harsh reality Saturday night.
 
The Flyers were blown out of the Wells Fargo Center in a 4-1 loss to the Devils that saw the same things continue to haunt the home team — defensive breakdowns and a lack of offense, among other things.
 
It’s no secret this season is quickly slipping away from the Flyers. They’ve lost their hold on the last wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference to the upstart Maple Leafs and the Hurricanes, Panthers and Devils are breathing right down the Flyers’ backs. To pile on the good news, every other team in the East is within four points of the Flyers, including the last-place Isles, who have 46 points compared to the Flyers’ 50 points.
 
Needless to say, the margin for error is all but gone.
 
This has been said many times recently, but the emphasis still hasn’t waned — if the Flyers want to save this season, it has to start with the next game.
 
2. What’s the mindset?
Michal Neuvirth, who was pulled before the third period of Saturday’s game for “precautionary reasons,” had a striking quote after the loss to the Devils.
 
“When you lose so many games, you lose confidence,” he told reporters.
 
He’s not kidding, and further proof of that came in the loss to the Devils, when the game was tied 1-1. In the second period, Radko Gudas was whistled for a clipping penalty and, boy, was it an awful call. It was nothing more than a hard hip check, aka a solid hockey play. Gudas got the two-minute minor and then Wayne Simmonds received an extra two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct for protesting the call, giving Jersey a full two-man advantage.
 
Predictably, the Devils scored to take the lead. Also predictably, the Flyers unraveled after that point.
 
It just seems lately that when something goes wrong for the Flyers, it all goes wrong for the Flyers. And that’s a troubling trend.

3. Changes in Brooklyn
Superstar John Tavares is still there, but beside that, plenty has changed since the Flyers and Islanders last met, a 3-2 Flyers shootout win in November at the Barclays Center.
 
No more Jack Capuano behind the Isles’ bench, as he was recently canned amidst his team’s struggles. Assistant general manager Doug Weight, whom you may remember from his not so distant playing days, is the interim head coach for the Isles.
 
Remember goalie Jaroslav Halak, who started the two teams’ first meeting? It’s no longer his net in Brooklyn, as he’s had a falling out with the club, lost the starting job to Thomas Greiss and was recently put on waivers.
 
And the Isles have responded positively to the changes, as they’ve won three in a row heading into Sunday night’s contest. The last-place moniker is misleading because the Isles are still just five points out of the final wild-card spot and still have tons of talent.
 
4. Keep an eye on …
Flyers: Let’s go with Travis Konecny. Let’s just say the Flyers are in need of an energy jolt these days and the rook has just the type of skillset to provide it. He scored his team’s only goal Saturday against the Devils and isn’t afraid to throw his body around if need be. He also scored against the Isles earlier this season. He’s now up to eight goals and 14 assists on the season.
 
Islanders: It has got to be John Tavares. The guy is an absolute star, but still could fit into the “underrated” or “under the radar” categories just because he plays for the Isles. I mean, check out this goal he scored earlier this year against St. Louis. Holy moly. While you’re at it, get a glimpse of this one he scored against Dallas last week. He’s got 19 goals and 17 assists on the year. In his career against the Flyers, he’s got 15 goals and 13 assists for 28 points, the third-most points he’s tallied against any team in the NHL.
 
5. This and that
• In a scheduling quirk, Sunday evening will mark the fourth straight time the Flyers and Islanders will play in Brooklyn. They haven’t met in Philadelphia in over a full calendar year — Jan. 9, 2016, a 4-0 Flyers win

• Sunday is the second of four meetings between the teams this season. They’ll also play Feb. 9 and March 30, both times in South Philly.

• Greiss will start in net for the Isles on Sunday. He’s recorded shutouts in his last two starts. For the season, he's 12-7-2 with a .927 save percentage and a 2.29 goals-against average.

• Reinforcements could be on the way Sunday for the Islanders, as forward Cal Clutterbuck (lower-body) and defenseman Johnny Boychuk (upper-body) could be ready to return to the lineup after injuries.

• Sunday’s game will be the second of a back-to-back set for both teams. The Flyers are 6-3-2 this year in such situations.

• The Flyers’ ugly road losing streak is up to nine games. A loss Sunday would make it a not-so-perfect 10.

Flyers' loss changes complexion after questionable penalty on Radko Gudas

Flyers' loss changes complexion after questionable penalty on Radko Gudas

There are good penalties. And bad penalties. And penalties which aren’t even penalties.

The last one would perfectly describe Radko Gudas’ hip check on Miles Wood that was whistled as clipping by referee Dan O’Halloran in the second period.

Even Wood was laughing as Gudas went to the box, realizing what a break he had gotten – a power play for nothing.

“He’s a pretty quick D-man,” Wood said. “I don’t think it should have been a call, but it was a good hit by him.”

That gave the Devils a power play. Then, when Wayne Simmond argued the call with O'Halloran, Simmonds drew two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct. The resulting 5-on-3 New Jersey power play saw the Devils score to break a 1-1 tie.

Minutes later, the Flyers had a bad line change and it was 3-1. Game over. The Devils would go on to win, 4-1 (see game story).

Bottom line? The Gudas call changed everything.

“I was really surprised,” Gudas said. “I didn’t think it was a penalty at all.”

Is this oversimplifying the game to say everything changed with that one call?

“Are we really simplifying it?” Gudas asked. “I think that after those calls we have to get together as a group and make sure we kill these off. Unfortunately, we let them score on that power play. It was just unlucky.”

Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol called it “an excellent hit” by Gudas. He wouldn’t go deeper than that.

The six muffed power plays gave him enough reason to believe the Flyers could have gotten back in it. His Flyers are 3-9-3 since winning 10 games.

You can’t underestimate how those two calls turned the tables on the Flyers in this game.

“Everyone has their own opinion on the hit and we were obviously frustrated on the hit,” Travis Konecny said. “We thought it was a clean hit and we reacted to it. We have everyone’s backs.

“We have all had the one’s where we are angry with the ref and the one who made a hit like that. There is a time for that moment there.”

Goalie Michal Neuvirth thought it was a difference maker.

“Oh, absolutely, we were playing better in the second period,” he said. “I thought we had a momentum. You know stuff like that 5-on-3 for two minutes, it’s tough to defend.

“I think it’s taking way too many penalties lately and you got to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”