Flyers need Bryzgalov to be consistent moving forward


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.

Taking in return, Ryan White moves on but will always remember Flyers

Taking in return, Ryan White moves on but will always remember Flyers

Ryan White was whisking by to the visiting locker room when he had to stop.
With huge delight, the long-haired forward hugged a Flyers employee in bright orange athletic gear standing outside the laundry room. 
The two exchanged hellos and good wishes before White’s path was impeded again.
None of this was a nuisance. This is what he loved.
“That’s probably the biggest thing I miss here in Philly is the people around the rink are great,” White said late Thursday night inside the Wells Fargo Center. “The guys from the locker room attendants to the security guys to people taking care of my girlfriend and stuff like that. It’s a special place to play and I always felt like I was welcomed here.”
White had just scored his first goal of the 2016-17 season. All offseason, he hoped and planned for the occasion to be in a Flyers sweater. He talked about his endearment for the organization trumping the worth of money elsewhere.
But on Thursday night, he was wearing an Arizona Coyote uniform and, what he called, “putting the final nail in the coffin” of a 5-4 loss for the Flyers.
“It feels good scoring here,” he said.
Not at all how he pictured it.
Playing fourth-line minutes (8:09), White somehow snuck a shot past Steve Mason from a nasty side angle with 4:19 remaining in regulation, making it 5-3 and virtually snuffing another Flyers comeback bid.
“Any time you’re coming back playing your old club, you want to make sure you get a win. … I loved playing as a Flyer, it was a lot of fun playing here,” White said. “Guys over there are a great group of guys, good coaching staff, good people in the organization. It’s just a special place to play.”
It’s where White wanted to be but he holds no ill will towards general manager Ron Hextall and the Flyers. Hextall liked and expressed interest in re-signing White, a role-playing fourth-liner, but went out and inked free-agent right winger Dale Weise (four-year, $9.4 million deal), more of a third-line player with similar attributes.
That signaled White’s end with the Flyers after two seasons.
“I think I’d be crazy if I didn’t want to come back here, it just didn’t work out,” White said. “I’m just happy I’ve gotten a chance to play in Phoenix and it’s been pretty good so far.”
White on Wednesday night caught up with former Flyers teammates Radko Gudas and Michal Neuvirth. While with the Flyers, he lived in the same building as the two. They all had dinner and White got to visit Gudas’ baby daughter.
On the ice, White, gritty and physical-minded, made his presence felt. He was penalized in the second period for charging Nick Cousins. He was also called for a delay of game penalty in the final two minutes for closing his hand on the puck. The Flyers scored on the power play, ironically turning White’s goal into the gamer-winner.
“He told me he just wanted the winning goal,” Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett said with a laugh. “So that’s all that counts.”
White enjoyed the rough-and-tough nature against his old friends. 
“All those guys play hard, they know how the game goes,” he said. “I had a little conversation with Gudy last night at dinner and he said, ‘You’re going to be running around out there.’ I figured it would be no other way. You’ve got to expect that coming from those guys, they’re a hard group over there.
“Those guys know how I play and they all play the same way, too, so it was fun.”
He also appreciated seeing the Flyers Heritage Night pregame ceremony honoring the organization’s legends, led by late founder Ed Snider. White kept tabs on the Flyers’ home opener last week when a banner commemorating Snider was raised to the rafters.
“I even heard about the first game coming back, it was pretty emotional in here,” he said. “It was a pretty special time playing here with Mr. Snider around. I think he’ll obviously be forever missed and like I said, it was just special to be a part of it.”
White wasn’t sure what to expect in his return. In the end, he wasn’t surprised.
“It’s funny, I thought maybe coming back here, it would be a little bit different,” White said. “But they’re a pretty welcoming group and it’s nice to be here.”
Even if it’s just for one game.

Rod Brind'Amour relishes night with Eric Lindros, Flyers alumni

Rod Brind'Amour relishes night with Eric Lindros, Flyers alumni

When he was introduced at center ice Thursday night, Rod Brind’Amour, who epitomizes what it meant to be a Flyer perhaps like no other player in franchise history, acknowledged the crowd.
And then the current Carolina assistant coach walked over to former teammate Eric Lindros and hugged him.
There were indeed some awkward moments for the two back in the 1990s, but they remain Flyers forever and this was Heritage Night for the organization’s Hall of Famers in celebration of their 50th Anniversary.
“You know I haven’t seen him in forever, and it was just fun and when we got out there we just said, ‘nice to be back on the ice again’, it’s been a long time and I haven’t seen him,” Brind’Amour explained of the gesture toward Lindros. 
“I saw Johnny [LeClair] last year but it was just nice to catch up with these guys and relive some stories, we had a lot of great times so it was nice to see him.”
How ironic that Brind’Amour would get traded to Carolina for a larger centerman in Keith Primeau and eventually after the pain of separation from the Flyers womb had healed, he won a Cup with the Hurricanes.
Ask Roddy and he’ll tell you that Cup should have been won in Philly. He began the season as a member of the 1999-00 team that blew a 3-1 lead to the Devils in the Eastern Conference finals, but was traded at the mid-point.
To this very day, it ranks all-time as the most controversial trade the Flyers ever made. As if the very soul of the organization had been purged.
“Well I mean that’s the way it goes, right?” Brind’Amour said. “We had a great team. We had a great team back then, but trades happen and they were trying to make the team better. Maybe it did, maybe it didn’t, but had we stayed together who knows what could have happened.
“I’m just fortunate that I got that Cup because obviously, that is what I played for my whole life. Would it have been great to have it here? Yes, I mean that would have been something special, but that’s life. It doesn’t always work out the way you want it to.
“It was just unfortunate we didn’t win because we were one of the best teams in the league there for a long time and things just didn’t work out. It’s hard to win a Stanley Cup, let me tell you.”
He admitted there’s an orange ‘n black spot in his heart that will forever belong to the Flyers. That’s why he interrupted his own season in Carolina to return here for one night of memories.
He also said how much it meant to him last spring when club chairman Ed Snider reached out to him shortly before his death.
“I got a great phone call before Mr. Snider passed and him telling me what he thought I meant to this team,” Brind’Amour said. 
“It meant a lot. So I really feel connected to the Flyers' organization again and I’ll take any chance I can to get back here and be a part of it.
“It has meant a lot to me to be back here and be in the fold. I love the alumni … so, any chance to get to reconnect with these guys means the world to me.”
Which is pretty much how Flyers fans felt about him, too.