Flyers need Bryzgalov to be consistent moving forward

022713-bryzgalovvoracek-slideshow-uspw.jpg

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.

Connor McDavid, Oilers' speed, skill present Flyers with 'real good challenge'

Connor McDavid, Oilers' speed, skill present Flyers with 'real good challenge'

VOORHEES, N.J. — They are among the very best – and highest scoring — lines in the NHL this season.
 
And they’re gunning for the Flyers on Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
 
Connor McDavid’s unit with Milan Lucic and Leon Draisaitl have a combined 30 goals and 78 points worth of offense. 
 
Among them, the lightning quick McDavid leads the NHL with 36 points. All 11 of his goals are even strength. 
 
He doesn’t have a single power-play goal, but is tied for the league lead with several players, including Claude Giroux, with 10 power-play assists.
 
You can expect to see Pierre-Edouard Bellemare’s unit with Chris VandeVelde and Dale Weise against this line with defenseman Ivan Provorov drawing McDavid for the first time this season.
 
“Speed and skill that Edmonton has up front presents a real good challenge for our team,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. “We have to be better with the puck tomorrow. 
 
“We didn’t do enough when we had the puck. Gave it up a little too easily and because of that, you end up playing defense a lot of the night and that’s what happened last night to us.”
 
Bellemare, who had his share of forward battles with Jaromir Jagr in Tuesday, likes to analyze the matchups against McDavid.
 
“He’s one of the best players in the world,” Bellemare said of the 19-year-old McDavid. “It’s tough not to be excited when playing against a guy who plays like this. He competes every second he is on the ice. That line is an impressive line.”
 
The Flyers better have some bad, choppy ice to slow McDavid down. Edmonton has some of the fastest ice in the league and the Oilers use it to their full advantage. 
 
Asked of McDavid’s tendencies, Bellemare said, “Is that a tendency? To be super fast?”
 
Yes it is. 
 
“When you play against them, he is a kid who is freaky fast right from the start,” Bellemare said. “Against that line, you saw [against Buffalo] that everyone knows how fast he is and he still had two breakaways.”
 
Which means the Flyers need to watch their turnovers, especially in the neutral zone where McDavid can go 60 feet in a flash.
 
“Even blue line to the top of the circle, you can’t turn the puck over,” Bellemare said. “Or he’s gone. This is a tendency we have to be careful of. All of the ice, you can’t give him any time or space. The less time you give him, the bigger chance you have to frustrate a player like this.”
 
Bellemare did some talking with Jagr a couple times in Tuesday’s game. So did Provorov. Bellemare says it helps to add psychology to the mix.
 
“You try to be in his face,” Bellemare said. “If you can win that battle against that line and our first line can win the battle against their fourth line, then it’s a win-win situation. I was trying to be in [Jagr’s] face.”
 
Jagr actually got angrier at Provorov and it showed with his hooking calls. But when Bellemare and Jagr went into the corner, Jagr got testy with his stick there as well.
 
“He was trying to give it to me a little harder,” Bellemare said. “Exactly what I need. If he is less focused on the puck, then maybe I have a chance to win that puck.”
 
McDavid’s focus will be solely on the puck.
 
“McDavid has been playing some pretty good hockey,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. “They’re a high-tempo team. A smart team. We’ve got to be ready.”
 
Loose pucks
Boyd Gordon came off long term injured reserve onto the active roster to give the Flyers 13 forwards. In doing that, Matt Read (oblique pull) went on injured reserve. … Defenseman Michael Del Zotto will sit against the Oilers while Radko Gudas returns from an illness. Gudas will be paired with Mark Streit, as Ivan Provorov remains with Andrew MacDonald for now. … Steve Mason, who did not practice Wednesday, will start in goal.

Ivan Provorov passes latest rookie test by shutting down Jaromir Jagr

Ivan Provorov passes latest rookie test by shutting down Jaromir Jagr

VOORHEES, N.J. — Maybe he saw some old video of how Chris Therien did it.
 
Or maybe Ivan Provorov just shrugged his 19-year-old shoulders and figured he’d do it his way.
 
Whatever the Flyers' rookie defenseman did, he shut down the ageless Jaromir Jagr during Tuesday’s 3-2 overtime victory against the Florida Panthers. 
 
Just like Therien used to do back in the day. 
 
Provorov frustrated Jagr into taking penalties. And when he wasn’t in the box for hooking the rookie, you could visibly see Jagr’s frustration across his face.
 
At one point, they were talking to each other on the ice. A Russian and a Czech. What was said?
 
“It stays in the game,” Provorov said with a smile Wednesday.
 
Provorov said he didn’t spend time watching a ton of video.
 
“We did our pre-scout in the morning,” he said. “That was it.”
 
Provorov, with help from centerman Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, held Jagr to one shot. His teammates were impressed.
 
“Unbelievable, a 19-year-old kid going against Jaromir Jagr,” Wayne Simmonds said. “I think he did a pretty good job. 
 
“I think he has done a great job all year long and he is only going to get better. If you watch him play, he is getting better and better, not every game but every shift.”
 
Provorov had an assist and two blocked shots, including a critical block on Reilly Smith that could have been a game-winner in overtime.
 
“Well we haven’t used him a lot in the 3-on-3 but we felt that it was time,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “Again, coming off of a real solid night where he’s playing against really good players all night long, he continued that right through the OT. 
 
“The impressive thing on that play is the read that he made to make that block … I haven’t looked at it on the replay or on tape yet. But I think that Mase might have been over on it but that play that Provy made was potentially a game saving play right there.”
 
Provorov doesn’t make flashy plays. He just makes the steady play every time he needs to. At season’s start, he was struggling to get his shot off without being blocked. Now he finds space along the blue to better position himself to get his shot through. He thinks before he reacts.
 
Behind the net, he is one of the few Flyers defensemen who almost never loses a puck battle. It’s often hard to believe he’s as young as he is.
 
“He moves so well and makes good reads, he’s a very intelligent player,” Andrew MacDonald said. “He has great poise with the puck, and not just for a 19-year-old, but for any aged player. 
 
“Defensively he always seems to be in the right positions and communicates well. We were fortunate to have some time together in camp, and a few games. I feel like we picked up where we left off the past few games.”
 
Jagr’s assets are size, strength — especially his lower core — and a skill set of moves without blinding speed.
 
Thursday will present a new challenge for Provorov: Edmonton’s Connor McDavid, the NHL’s leading scorer with 36 points. McDavid is all about youth and raw speed. 
 
“They’re different players, but it doesn’t matter,” Provorov said. “You take away time and space. Don’t give him time to get a lot of speed.”
 
This is another learning experience for Provorov. In a different age category. Hakstol credits assistant coach Gord Murphy for bringing Provorov up to speed at the NHL level.
 
“I think Murph has done a really good job in managing that progression along, most importantly, with Provy, managing it," Hakstol said.
 
“You can go back to the tell-tale sign of the tough night back in Chicago [third game]. That didn’t shake or rattle Provy in any way. He came back with pretty good determination the next day.
 
“You have to be an honest evaluator of your own game. I think Provy … whether it’s a real good night or a tough night, that allows you to keep an even keel and an even balance. I think that’s a real strength.”

Injury update
The Flyers on Wednesday placed left winger Matt Read on injured reserve and activated center Boyd Gordon. Gordon has been out since Nov. 3.