Struggling Bryzgalov still Flyers' No. 1 goalie

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Struggling Bryzgalov still Flyers' No. 1 goalie

If there were any questions as to who the Flyers No. 1 goalie is, the teams coaches seemed to put them to rest Monday at Skate Zone.

While both goalie coach Jeff Reese and head coach Peter Laviolette refused to outright call Ilya Bryzgalov their No. 1, they made it clear "the Bryzard of Oz" is still their top guy.

Yes, Sergei Bobrovsky might be the better goaltender right now, with far better stats. Nonetheless, Bryzgalov is going to get the majority of starts the rest of the way to prep for the playoffs.

I hate numbers, you know that, Laviolette said when asked who his No. 1 was. Thats a silly question. I dont use numbers. Now Bryz has gotten the majority of the starts. I dont know if that answers your question or not.

Bryz was brought here to be a horse and has received the majority of games. I dont see that changing.

The Flyers have 39 games left.

Bryzgalov, who averaged 64 starts in net during his four years in Phoenix, has played in 30 games.

Anyone familiar with Bryz will tell you that he needs consecutive starts over a sustained period to find his rhythm.

Theoretically, he could still get 64 starts, but that wont happen. The Flyers have six pairs of back-to-back games, so were really only talking about 33 games left in which Bryz can work. That adds up to 63 starts.

Reese thinks even that number is too high.

Id like to keep him under 60 so he is fresh and hungry and ready for the long grind of the playoffs, Reese said.

The doubt about who is the real No. 1 has come about lately because of how well Bobrovsky has played against lesser opponents, while Bryzgalov continues to struggle every game with deflected shots.

On paper, Bobrovskys numbers are sterling: 2.42 goals-against average and .921 save percentage.

Bryzgalov? Hes having the worst season of his nine-year NHL career with a 3.07 GAA and .891 save percentage. You wont win a Stanley Cup with those numbers. You wont even win a playoff round.

Everyone knows Bryz is better than what hes shown, but his propensity this season to continually get burned by shot deflections is unnerving.

That hasnt been the case with Bobrovsky, nor was it ever the case with Bryzgalov in Phoenix.

How many times have we heard Bryz say that its his fate this year to get beat by deflections?

Its almost expected every game now, which does nothing for his confidence.

Its most important for me right now to bring my head, put everything in my head in the right spot, the right direction, Bryzgalov said. Lots of things the past three months and it was a little messy. I need to put things in the right spot and practice and work.

Laviolette has used Bobrovsky as the guy with the hot hand and rewarded him for wins this season.

Its sometimes difficult to figure out who gets the next start because, on the basis of a hot hand, Bobrovsky should have started against Nashville. And didnt.

The Flyers lost 4-2 with Bryzgalov in net. There were two more deflected goals, too.

People point to the fact that Bob has looked good against bad clubs, but to say that also discounts Ottawa, Dallas, Pittsburgh and even Montreal as teams that have given the Flyers fits in the past on the road.

The fact is, as Kimmo Timonen bluntly put it, Bobrovsky exudes confidence in net, his on-ice appearance supports that, and it rubs off on the team. Thats important to a hockey club.

He plays with confidence, you can tell when he gets in net, Timonen said of Bobrovsky last week.

Hes calm. Every save he makes, you see the confidence. He has control, he knows where the puck is, even if he doesnt make the first save. He knows where the rebound is.

He helps the defense, like he made a couple of breakup passes under pressure. That obviously helps. His puck-handling skills are way better. I dont know what he did over the summer. When a goalie plays with confidence, you can tell as a player.

Youre not hearing players say that about Bryzgalov, are you? And they wont, because Bryz isnt comfortable in net and has no positive rhythm at the moment.

You could say the Flyers seem to play differently and with more confidence in front of Bobrovsky. At the same time, the Flyers defense has been porous of late, and simply is not as strong as when Chris Pronger was around.

Defensive breakdowns are a trigger point in front of both goalies right now.

The weight of Bryzgalovs 51 million contract seems to have muddled things, yet the fact remains: Bryzgalov needs a string of games to get into a groove.

He admitted because he had averaged 64 starts in the past, he has no idea how many he needs to play here.

Its really difficult to explain this right now, he said. Im on a new team, new system, different players.

Asked whether he needs a lot of consecutive starts this month with positive results, he said, Yeah, I wish.

Goalie juggling at this point is not going to restore Bryzs confidence.

Looking ahead, March is the busiest month for the Flyers with 16 games to figure out who has the better chance to lead this club come the playoffs. Thats a while away.

Laviolette won a Stanley Cup in Carolina, changing his goalies around. He doesnt believe there is an exact science to getting a guy ready for a Cup run.

And hes not married to one goalie, either. Just because a guy is in net in March, doesnt necessarily mean hell be the guy in net come June if his team gets that far.

You could go out and make a case 10 ways, both ways, Laviolette said about the importance of March in goalie preparation. I dont really think there is an exact science. Ill give you a for instance.

Cam Ward won the Vezina. He came in after Game 2 and ran it the whole way and didnt get the majority of starts in March. You can make a case for Tim Thomas, who got the majority of starts.

Laviolette will always leave the window open for the possibility that whoever begins the playoffs may not finish.

Yet its not too early to let Bryzgalov make a run this month and see where the Flyers are, even if it means living with bad, deflected goals.

We have the luxury of having two very good goalies here now and as long as Bryzgalov is peaking and fresh going into the playoffs, that is what we are concentrating on, Reese said.

Were basically going one game at a time right now and thats how were looking at it. Peter would say the same thing.
E-mail Tim Panaccio at tpanotch@comcast.net

Stanley Cup: Offseason moves send Sharks to final after missing playoffs

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Stanley Cup: Offseason moves send Sharks to final after missing playoffs

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- After watching the San Jose Sharks miss the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade, general manager Doug Wilson set out to remake the team last offseason.

Individually, none of the moves sent shockwaves through the NHL. The Sharks hired a coach who made the playoffs once in seven seasons as an NHL coach, traded a first-round pick for a goalie who had been a backup his entire career, added two playoff-tested veterans for depth at forward and defense and signed an unheralded Finnish rookie.

Together, the additions of Peter DeBoer, Martin Jones, Joel Ward, Paul Martin and Joonas Donskoi to a solid core that had underachieved proved to be the right mix to get the Sharks to their long-awaited first Stanley Cup Final appearance.

"I thought this team has a lot of the pieces of that puzzle," Martin said. "Doug did a great job bringing guys in that he did, to make that push for it. I don't think many people would have guessed that we'd be here right now, but I think we believed."

The players all said the disappointment of blowing a 3-0 series lead to Los Angeles in 2014 and then missing the playoffs entirely last season served as fuel for this season's success.

DeBoer also credited former coach Todd McLellan for helping put the foundation in place that he was able to capitalize on. The Sharks became the second team in the past 10 seasons to make it to the final after missing the playoffs the previous season, joining the 2011-12 Devils that pulled off the same trick in DeBoer's first season in New Jersey.

"Everyone was ready for something a little bit fresher and newer, not anything that much different," DeBoer said. "The additions that Doug made, it just came together. I inherited a similar team in New Jersey when I went in there. First time they missed the playoffs for a long time the year before I got there. I think when you go into that situation, when you have really good people like there was in New Jersey when I went in there, like I was with this group ... they're embarrassed by the year they just had, and they're willing to do and buy into whatever you're selling to get it fixed again. I think I was the benefactor of that."

The transition from McLellan to DeBoer wasn't seamless. As late as Jan. 8, the Sharks were in 13th place in the 14-team Western Conference and seemingly on the way to another missed postseason.

But with Logan Couture finally healthy after being slowed by a broken leg early in the season and the move by DeBoer to put Tomas Hertl on the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, the Sharks rolled after that and made the playoffs as the third-place team in the Pacific Division.

In-season additions of players like depth forwards Dainius Zubrus and Nick Spaling, physical defenseman Roman Polak and backup goaltender James Reimer helped put the Sharks in the position they are now.

"With the new coaching staff we needed to realize how we needed to play to win," Thornton said. "Once that clicked, and that probably clicked maybe early December, I think after that, we just exploded. I think that's really when we saw the depth of this team. Everybody plays a big part."

That has been especially true in the playoffs when longtime core players like Thornton, Couture, Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau got the support that had often been lacking during past postseason disappointments.

Jones has posted three shutouts in the playoffs, including the Game 7 second-round clincher against Nashville and back-to-back games in the conference final against St. Louis. He has proven more than capable of being an NHL starter after serving an apprenticeship as Jonathan Quick's backup in Los Angeles.

Ward scored two goals in each of the final two games of the conference final and has 11 points this postseason. Donskoi exceeded expectations just to make the team as a rookie and has solidified his spot on the second line with five goals and nine points.

Martin's steady play has allowed offensive-minded defenseman Brent Burns to roam at times and given San Jose a strong second defensive pair that had been missing in previous seasons.

Zubrus and Spaling played a big role as penalty killers and on the fourth line, while Polak has been one of the team's most physical players.

"Doug did a great job this summer, this season," Couture said. "A lot of credit needs to go to him for the guys he brought in."

Flyers defensive prospect Ivan Provorov named CHL Defenseman of the Year

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Flyers defensive prospect Ivan Provorov named CHL Defenseman of the Year

Flyers prospect and Brandon Wheat Kings defenseman Ivan Provorov on Saturday afternoon was named the 2015-16 Canadian Hockey League's Defenseman of the Year.

Provorov, who the Flyers drafted with the seventh overall pick in 2015, recorded 21 markers, 73 points and was a plus-64 in 62 games with Brandon during the regular season.

The 19-year-old beat out Windsor's Mikhail Sergachev and Shawinigan's Samuel Girard for the honor. Both Sergachev and Girard are eligible for this year's draft, which is June 24-25 in Buffalo, New York.

In 21 playoff games with the Wheat Kings, Provorov added three goals and 10 assists. Brandon beat the Seattle Thunderbirds in the WHL Championship Series to capture the Ed Chynoweth Cup. However, in the Memorial Cup, Brandon lost to the Red Deer Rebels on May 25.

What's next for Provorov?

The defenseman will come to Flyers training camp in September with his eye on making the roster. Many believe Provorov is ready to make the jump to the NHL, but Flyers general manager Ron Hextall has built a reputation of being patient, especially with his defensive prospects.

Provorov is one of five prospects in the Flyers' system that has created excitement, joining Travis Sanheim, Samuel Morin, Robert Hagg and Philippe Myers, an undrafted free-agent signing who made noise this season. Could Provorov — or any of the other prospects — join Shayne Gostisbehere on the Flyers' blue line in 2016-17?

After the Flyers' season ended with a playoff series loss to the Washington Capitals, Hextall hinted he'll continue to be patient with his prospects (see story).

“What we're building towards remains the same,” Hextall said after the season. “I'm not an impatient guy by nature. Maybe I was a little bit on the ice, but I've been off the ice for 17 years or whatever it is, so the whole thing that we started to build two years ago — our vision is the same and we're on a path.

“And we're a lot closer than we were two years ago."

But all eyes will be on Provorov come training camp. Can he force Hextall's hand?

End to End: Which Flyer has the most to prove in 2016-17?

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End to End: Which Flyer has the most to prove in 2016-17?

Each week, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

Going End to End this week are Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone, all producers/reporters for CSNPhilly.com.

The question: Which Flyer has the most to prove in 2016-17?

Dougherty
Scott Laughton will be given every opportunity to prove himself, and if there is any single player under contract on this Flyers roster with the most to prove, it's Laughton.

Laughton, the 20th overall pick in 2012, is coming off his first full season with the Flyers and he left much to be desired. He struggled to stay in the top nine and found himself a healthy scratch for seven games during the most crucial stretch of the season.

What concerns me about Laughton is Dave Hakstol struggled to find a position for him. Laughton is a natural center and the original thought process was he would play center in the NHL, which he still very well may. But Laughton ended up playing some wing this season, too. It was similar to what the Flyers were doing with Brayden Schenn in 2014-15.

Still, Laughton, who turns 22 on Monday, failed to show much at either position. He finished with seven goals and 21 points in 71 games. He found his way into the lineup for three games in the playoffs because of Sean Couturier's shoulder injury and showed little before suffering a scary injury that left him motionless on the ice for a few minutes.

We've said it before — Laughton will have every chance to earn his spot on the opening night roster in training camp. The Flyers won't give up on him after one disappointing season, but Laughton has to come to camp in shape and with an edge we haven't seen yet.

Looking into our crystal ball, the orange and black could have one or two more forwards from outside the organization in camp come September and Travis Konecny will be hungry to crack the lineup. Laughton is going to have competition for his spot on the roster.

And he has to prove to Hakstol, general manager Ron Hextall and the Flyers he deserves it.

Hall
There will be no shortage of pressure for Jakub Voracek next season.
 
Not much went his way this past season, the first after signing an eight-year, $66 million extension following his career year in 2014-15.
 
He started slow. He changed positions. He got hurt and then played through it.
 
It all culminated in a taxing and disappointing season.
 
So, if anyone, Voracek has the most to prove in 2016-17. He’ll want to show that his career season was no fluke, that he can produce near that clip and is worth the hefty deal doled out by the Flyers.
 
Voracek’s health/production will be one of the hottest storylines to start the season.

Paone
No player on the Flyers’ roster has more to prove next season than Voracek.
 
Remember how great he was in 2014-15 when he finished fourth in the NHL with 81 points after leading the league for much of the year in that category, was named an All-Star for the first time in his career and earned a massive eight-year, $66 million extension shortly thereafter?
 
Those contract numbers are important because what Voracek has to prove this season lies in those numbers. His play last season wasn’t necessarily befitting of someone with that type of contract.
 
Voracek put up solid numbers last season with 11 goals and 44 assists in 73 games, but he just didn’t have the same effectiveness that he did in the prior season. If you recall, it took him 17 games to net his first goal of the season, an overtime winner in Carolina on Nov. 14. His ineffectiveness caused Dave Hakstol to move Voracek up and down the lineup and even send him over to the opposite wing, a position Voracek had rarely ever played before.
 
It just so happens that contract extension kicks in this season.
 
The soon-to-be 27-year-old forward holds himself to incredibly high standards. He’ll be out to prove to himself this season was an anomaly and make sure people know he’s a star worthy of those contract numbers.