Struggling Bryzgalov still Flyers' No. 1 goalie

Struggling Bryzgalov still Flyers' No. 1 goalie
January 16, 2012, 7:30 pm
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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