Ilya Bryzgalov Still Proving His Worth to Flyers Nation

Ilya Bryzgalov Still Proving His Worth to Flyers Nation

Philadelphia can be hard on star athletes, especially those
perceived as being vastly overpaid. So when the Flyers traded for Ilya Bryzgalov's rights and signed him to a nine-year
contract at $51 million in the summer of 2011 – a whopping $5.67 per year – naturally
many fans became incensed before he ever played a game in Orange & Black.

Never mind Bryzgalov was one of the primary reasons a small-market
franchise in Phoenix was able to compete year after year, posting a record of
78-40-16 during his final two seasons with the Coyotes. And forget the
three-ring circus that had been booked in the Flyers’ crease the previous
two Aprils, with the likes of Sergei Bobrovsky, Brian Boucher, and Michael
Leighton getting the call during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

No, the concern was the length of the contract and the
amount of money, and to a lesser degree, that this Bryglaov fellow might be

He did little to dissuade those fears during the first few
months of the 2011-12 campaign. In what was clearly an adjustment period for
Bryz, he posted a pedestrian .890 save percentage during the months of October,
November, and December, looking generally out of sorts while doing so. There
was a soft goal against him on an almost-nightly basis, often immediately after the puck

Bryz also made several strange comments, at times sounding
defeated, like when he confessed to being “lost in the woods” following one
particularly dismal outing. He didn’t handle the increased media scrutiny that
comes with playing in Philly very well at all, and there were more cameras than ever
thanks to the upcoming Winter Classic – where head coach Peter Laviolette would bench Bryzgalov
in favor of Bobrovsky on a national stage.

Then something clicked in the second half. The young Bob
wasn’t playing great either, and the organization had loads invested in Bryz,
so he began starting with more frequency. And the more he played, the more
comfortable he looked.

Bryzgalov’s save percentage crept up along with his time on
ice to .923 over the final four months of the season, his stellar play reaching
its pinnacle in March when he set the Flyers’ record for most consecutive
minutes of shutout hockey. He finished the month with a 10-2-1 record, holding the
opponents to zero on four occasions.

This is what the Flyers gave him that huge contract for.
This is the quality of netminder nine years, $51 million buys you.

Don’t think Bryzgalov’s suddenly stellar play was a
coincidence, either. It was anything but. The front office had just shored up
some concerns along the blue line through trades for Pavel Kubina, and
especially Nik Grossmann. Part of the problem all along had been the Flyers’
inability to overcome Chris Pronger’s absence from the lineup, and the club was
struggling defensively across the board. Reinforcements helped.

Not only that, but numbers suggest Bryzgalov is at his
absolute best the more he is in net. His best season was 09-10, when
he appeared in a career-high, league-leading 69 games, setting personal bests for wins (42), shutouts (8), and
goals against average (2.29). He's also played 68, 65, and 64 in a season. But early on with the Flyers, Bryz was getting
jerked around, in part because he wasn’t doing so hot, but also because
Laviolette was trying to find adequate time for Bobrovsky. Bryz finished at 59 games in 11-12.

That’s why GM Paul Holmgren went cheap on a backup this
season, going with Leighton and adding Boucher as insurance. As long as he’s
healthy, Bryz should play over 40 games this season easy.

Of course, there were still plenty of questions surrounding
Bryzgalov coming out of the lockout. He suffered a chip fracture in his foot down the
stretch last season, and while he came back in time for the playoffs, the
momentum was gone, and he could not have been at 100%. Still, his performance in the tournament left a bad taste. There was even some talk
that the Flyers could use their compliance buyout on Bryz this offseason to get
out from under his contract.

I would seriously doubt the Flyers have any intention of
doing something so drastic though. The nine-year, $51 million contract you hate
so much – which by the way, makes him only the eighth-highest paid goalie annually in the NHL – it was a measured response to years of Leightons, Bouchers, Bobrovskys,
Marty Birons, Ray Emerys, Robert Esches, and Antero Niitymakis, and many more
fill-ins, stopgaps, and disappointments who served between the pipes for this
franchise over the past couple of decades.

They chose this route for a reason.

So far this year, Bryzgalov has given us nothing to complain
about, on the ice or otherwise. He’s been one of the few guys wearing Orange & Black that has
demonstrated some consistency.

Through five games, Bryz is 2-3 with a .923 SV%,
2.21 GAA – and the numbers probably don’t even really do the effort justice
given that several goals and opportunities weren’t his fault. It's been the big moments, too, like when he helped kill 5-on-3 and 5-on-4 power plays back-to-back in their win over the New York Rangers last week, or his multiple post-to-post saves against the Florida Panthers over the weekend.

Then again, there probably remains a fairly large group of people out
there just waiting for him to slip up. Neither five games, nor one
record-setting month are going to convince every fan Bryz was worth it. Maybe
nothing short of hoisting the Cup will.

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Best of NHL: Canadiens rally past Lightning for 6th straight win

Best of NHL: Canadiens rally past Lightning for 6th straight win

MONTREAL -- Max Pacioretty scored the tiebreaking goal in Montreal's three-goal third period as the Canadiens beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-1 Thursday night for their sixth straight win.

Alex Galchenyuk and Torrey Mitchell also scored to help Montreal improve to 7-0-1. Carey Price made 29 saves to win for the fourth time in four starts this season.

Alex Killorn scored the lone goal for the Lightning, who lost against an Eastern-Conference opponent for the first time this season. Ben Bishop stopped 23 shots.

With the scored tied 1-1, Pacioretty got the go-ahead goal at 10:23 by beating Bishop glove-side. Blown coverage by the Lightning left the Canadiens' captain all alone on the edge of the face-off circle, and Bishop couldn't see the shot with Andrew Shaw posted firmly in front of goal.

Montreal remains the only NHL team still undefeated in regulation (see full recap).

Crosby's late goal gives Penguins win over Islanders
PITTSBURGH -- Sidney Crosby scored the tiebreaking goal late in the third period to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 4-2 victory over the New York Islanders on Thursday night.

Patric Hornqvist, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel also scored -- each getting his third of the season -- to help the Penguins win for the third time in four games and improve to 5-0-1 at home.

Crosby, playing for the second straight game after missing the first six with a concussion, scored with 2:25 left as he caught a pass from Scott Wilson at the top of the crease and quickly turned to his forehand to put the puck behind Islanders goalie Jaroslav Halak.

Kessel added a power-play goal to cap the scoring 32 seconds later.

Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 35 shots while starting for the eighth straight game.

Travis Hamonic and Shane Prince scored for the Islanders, and Halak finished with 31 saves (see full recap).

Streaking Red Wings win marathon shootout vs. Blues
ST. LOUIS -- Henrik Zetterberg scored in the eighth round of a shootout to give the Detroit Red Wings a 2-1 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night.

Zetterberg's goal gave the Red Wings a six-game winning streak.

In the shootout, St. Louis' first shooter, Alexander Steen, scored but then Vladimir Tarasenko, Kevin Shattenkirk, David Perron, Nail Yakupoc, Robby Fabbri, Patrick Burgland and Dmitrjij Jaskin all came up short.

Gustav Nyquist scored on Detroit's second attempt but Frans Nielsen, Dylan Larkin, Andreas Athanasiou, Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheehan and Darren Helm all missed.

St. Louis had the better chances in overtime. Center Jaden Schwartz missed a wide-open net early in the extra session. Jori Lehtera was stopped on a breakaway midway through the period by Detroit goalie Petr Mrazek (see full recap).

Flyers Hall of Famers return to toast Ed Snider, 50th anniversary

Flyers Hall of Famers return to toast Ed Snider, 50th anniversary

There were times when Rod Brind’Amour didn’t quite feel like a part of the Flyers’ family anymore.

Following eight years rich with memories and victories in a Flyers' jersey, Brind’Amour, a beloved player who changed the franchise on and off the ice, was stunningly traded to the Hurricanes less than a month into the 1999-00 season.

He went on to win two Frank J. Selke trophies (NHL’s best defensive forward) and a Stanley Cup in Carolina before landing an assistant coaching job within the organization.

“You get traded, you automatically think, ‘Well, I’m not what I thought I was,’” Brind’Amour said. “But that wasn’t the case.”

Especially once his phone rang and it was Ed Snider on the other line.

“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. “That meant a lot. I really feel connected to the Flyers’ organization again and I’ll take any chance I can to get back and be a part of it.”

A year after being inducted in the Flyers’ Hall of Fame, he was among the orange and black greats on Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center to toast the team’s 50th anniversary with Flyers Heritage Night. Snider, the Flyers’ fearless and compassionate founder who died in April, would have been all smiles on Thursday night as a pregame ceremony at center ice honored the legends that played a role in fulfilling his vision.

Fourteen Flyers Hall of Famers were on hand as Bill Barber, Brind’Amour, Bob Clarke, Ron Hextall, Mark Howe, John LeClair, Reggie Leach, Eric Lindros, Bernie Parent, Brian Propp, Dave Poulin, Dave Schultz, Joe Watson and Jim Watson came out one by one. Family members of Snider, Gene Hart, Barry Ashbee, Rick MacLeish, Keith Allen and Joe Scott were also present.

The evening was all about family, just like Snider.

Poulin, who captained the Flyers for parts of six seasons (1984-90) and two Stanley Cup Final appearances (1985, 1987), said these are can’t-miss events to reminisce and remember.

“There’s a lot of demands on your time, a lot of different things, it’s busy for everybody and everybody’s got different things going on in their life, but when this call comes in from Brad Marsh (former Flyers player, team’s current director of community development), you’re marking it on the calendar and you’re coming,” Poulin said during the first intermission of the Flyers’ 5-4 loss to the Coyotes (see Instant Replay). “This is pretty special to be out there with this group tonight.”

Since retiring, Poulin, a 1986-87 Selke winner with the Flyers and two-time NHL All-Star, has coached, worked in front-office roles and is now an analyst for TSN. He’s always around hockey and talking hockey.

Outsiders frequently mention the Flyers, one reason why Poulin calls the organization “unique.”

“Still to this day, I have conversations with people that played a long time in the NHL that are incredibly envious of the Flyers,” Poulin said. “I had one as recently as Monday night. I was at a book signing for Darryl Sittler, who has a new book out, and we were teammates here. And I had a great conversation with Syl Apps Jr., who was an original Pittsburgh Penguin. And the first thing he wanted to say was, ‘What about those Flyers, what about that Philadelphia, what about that?’ Guys that never experienced it from the inside were always envious of what they saw, and to a man.”

Poulin said that’s a testament to Snider.

“It was Ed Snider, it was the continuity of a leader that through 50 years — which is unheard of in any industry, any business, let alone a professional sports team — kept it like it was,” he said. “And then everybody assimilated into that. Everybody became a part of it, everybody understood the importance of it.”

During the tribute, Brind’Amour gave Lindros a big hug, to the surprise of many.

“I haven’t seen him in forever,” Brind’Amour said. “It was just fun, when we got out there we just said, ‘It’s nice to be back on the ice again.’ It’s been a long time, I haven’t seen him. I saw [LeClair] last year obviously. But it’s just nice to catch up with these guys and relive some stories. We had a lot of great times, it was nice to see [Lindros].”

Brind’Amour was asked how so many former Flyers from different eras, with families and separate agendas, make such reunions possible.

He found his answer before the question even finished.

“It’s Philadelphia,” he said. “This means a lot to me. To be honest with you, I was out of it, I was doing my own thing and last year, when they did that whole ceremony for me, it just kind of brought me into the fold, that this is important and that they really did appreciate what I did here.”

And Snider, never forgetting any, made that clear with a phone call.

“I think there was a time there where I just didn’t really think that was the case, so it’s meant a lot to me to be back here and be in the fold,” Brind’Amour said. “I love the alumni. … Any chance to get to reconnect with these guys, it just means the world to me.”