Garon and Lightning Send Bryzgalov Back to Woods

Garon and Lightning Send Bryzgalov Back to Woods

The look on Ilya Bryzgalov's face in his post-game chat with the beats just about said it all. Wide-eyed, staring, stunned. What the stare failed to express, the Russian netminder made clear, even dropping the ol' audible F-bomb live on air for all to hear.

Bryzgalov and the Flyers ceded five goals on just 16 credited Tampa Bay Lightning shots. Mathieu Garon, who has taken over as Tampa's starter, looked shaky to start the game, but weathered an early Flyers barrage and seemed increasingly sharp as the game moved on. There was a fun highlight reel goal and a huge win in a fight, but an overall poor effort in the second period cooked the Flyers.

A closer look at the game and some unanswered questions about Bryzgalov and the overall defensive struggles, below. Plus, Bryz's postgame comments, which will likely make the next 24/7 ep.

In their last trip to Tampa, the Flyers had trouble getting shots on goal much less in it. Tonight, they had 17 shots in the first period alone while limiting the Lightning to just four. However, Bruno Gervais scored on the second of them, nearly 10 minutes into the period. A soft shot off the face-off appeared to change direction off of Brayden Schenn's stick, falling through a hole that probably should have been a little tighter on Bryz's part.

Scott Hartnell's goal off another brilliant creation by Claude Giroux knotted it at one-apiece, and the Flyers appeared to have the edge. Unfortunately, they apparently left it in the locker room, unable to get anything going in the second. Steven Stamkos' 21st and 22nd goals bookended a vomitous Steve Downie contribution, and the Flyers managed all of THREE shots on goal over the middle 20 minutes (see shots note below though).

The game got increasingly rough over the course of the second, with both sides testing the refs. Hartnell goaded an entire bench of blue-clad Lightning players, trading some stickwork with them, even causing Ryan Malone to jump the boards to try to get after him (unsuccessful) and Downie to swing a stick at him. That and a sound beating of Eric Brewer by Wayne Simmonds weren't able to tip the scales in the Flyers' favor, and Tampa held control the rest of the way.

What's Up in Net?
The answers aren't easy as to what's causing the Flyers' lapses in their own end. They're having trouble clearing out traffic, even allowing the obvious threats like Stamkos far too much space. Screens, deflections, and bad bounces also have played a huge role, with each contributing to Downie's goal. However, Bryzgalov looked slow reacting and going post to post, which was even more apparent with Garon stopping second efforts repeatedly. Bryz looked like he knew he had no shot at stopping the second period goals; even if that's the case, it's not something that should show up in the body language before the puck crosses the line.

If his head isn't right, his body's not in the right position.

On the one hand, you hope his luck off bad bounces improves and brings his save percentage up with it. But his confidence appeared shaky on the ice, and his frustrations were apparent when he fielded questions afterward. Like, letters-to-the-network apparent (see video below, which has a bleep the live feed did not). Lavvy has a tough decision to make heading into Thursday night's game in Pittsburgh—the last before the Flyers play in the highest profile event on the hockey calendar.

Notes
The shots on goal totals are a little misleading in this one, as is often the case. Tampa was successful in blocking quite a few (22) while plenty missed the net (19). At the other end, the Lightning had as many shots not reach the net as they put on goal (seven blocked, nine missing the net).

No matter how you slice it up though, the Flyers took a ton more shots than the Lightning (73 vs 32), and had some very strong opportunities, but couldn't beat Garon more than once.

At times, the Flyers looked like they were on the power play despite being at even strength. On the power play, they had trouble getting shots through to the net.

Malone and Hartnell each got a 10-min misconduct for the incident by the TB bench in the second, but the league could give its old buddy Steve Downie a call for the slash he sent Hartnell's way from over the boards.

Giroux's assist moved him to 44 points on the season, 17 goals and 37 helpers. He's two points ahead of Evgeni Malkin.

This brutal road month can't end soon enough. Carrying a great overall away record, the Flyers appear road-weary at this point, losing back-to-back away from home for the first time all season. Hopefully they don't make it three in a row on Thursday.

Bryzgalov Postgame

Quote of the Night
"Out-staaannnding."
    —Ilya Bryzgalov, frustrated, sarcastically, on his performance.

Game Highlights

Phillies sign OF Daniel Nava, LHP Sean Burnett to minor-league contracts

Phillies sign OF Daniel Nava, LHP Sean Burnett to minor-league contracts

The Phillies made a couple quiet additions as the winter meetings ended, signing veteran outfielder Daniel Nava and lefty reliever Sean Burnett to minor-league contracts.

Nava, 34 in February, is a left-handed hitter who can play the outfield corners and first base. He came up with the Red Sox and became a fan favorite in Boston in 2010 as a 27-year-old rookie. Some Phillies fans will remember him for hitting a grand slam off Joe Blanton in his first major-league plate appearance.

Nava had a few decent years in Boston, the best of which was 2013, when he had 536 plate appearances and hit .303/.385/.445 with 29 doubles, 12 homers and 66 RBIs. 

Nava's numbers and opportunities have dropped every year since. He was designated for assignment by Boston in 2015, latched on with the Rays, signed the next year with the Angels and was traded late in the season to the Royals.

Over the last two seasons, Nava has hit just .208, albeit with an on-base percentage 99 points higher because of his 30 walks and 10 hit by pitches.

Burnett, 34, has spent five of the last seven seasons in the Nationals' bullpen. He had a 2.85 ERA in 283 appearances from 2009-12 and parlayed that success into a two-year, $7.25 million contract with the Angels. However, he barely pitched in 2013 and 2014 for the Halos because of an elbow tear. He returned to the Nats last season and allowed two runs in 5⅔ innings.

Burnett, perhaps more so than Nava, has a chance to fill a role with the Phillies if he can stay healthy. He's shown he can get outs at the highest level, posting a 2.38 ERA in 2012 with 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings and a 2.14 ERA with 8.9 K/9 in 2010. That was a long time ago now, and Burnett's fastball has dipped from averaging 90-91 mph to 88.

According to Sportsnet's Ben Nicholson-Smith, Burnett will receive a $1.25 million salary if he makes the team and can earn another $1.75 million in incentives based on his number of appearances.

Burnett has an opt-out date of March 26, meaning he can become a free agent a week before the regular season begins if it looks to him like he isn't in the Phils' plans.

Nava's chances at cracking the opening-day roster seem longer because the Phillies are expected to make more depth signings between now and the start of camp. They've prioritized finding some offense in the corner outfield and that could come in the form of more minor-league deals, a guaranteed contract or trade. One potential fit I examined last week was Mariners outfielder Seth Smith, a hitter more proven than Nava (see story).

These minor-league deals were commonplace for Phillies general manager Matt Klentak last offseason, when the only free agent he signed to a major-league deal was reliever David Hernandez. 

Last season, three players who were signed to minor-league deals with invites to spring training made the team on opening day: outfielder Cedric Hunter, utilityman Emmanuel Burriss and reliever James Russell.

Others, such as former closers Edward Mujica, Ernesto Frieri and Andrew Bailey, failed to make the team out of camp. Bailey eventually earned a call-up; the other two didn't.

Former Sixer Lou Williams lighting it up with Lakers off the bench

Former Sixer Lou Williams lighting it up with Lakers off the bench

Former Sixers point guard and Meek Mill collaborator Lou Williams is enjoying quite the run off the bench for the Lakers recently.

Over Los Angeles' last four games, Williams has posted totals of 40, 38, 24, and 35 points. 

The six-man is averaging 34.5 points per game over the stretch, and his 137 points are the most off the bench in a four-game span by any player since 1970-71, when stats were first recorded, per Elias Sports Bureau, via ESPN. Williams is now averaging 19.3 points this season, which is 4.4 more than his highest average with the Sixers.

Williams isn’t the only player who used to play for the Sixers that is playing well for the Lakers this year. Nick “Swaggy P” Young, who also comes off the bench, is averaging 13.3 points per game. Just a few weeks ago, Swaggy P stole a pass intended for Lou Williams, and then proceeded to hit a game winner against the Thunder. Swaggy P, however, is currently sidelined with a right calf strain, but is getting closer to a return.

"Lou Will" was also talked about last April during Kobe Bryant’s final NBA game, when he was beefing on Twitter with another former Philadelphia athlete, LeSean McCoy.