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
overrated.

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
dropped.

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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Flyers-Blackhawks 10 observations: Have yourself a day, Ivan Provorov

Flyers-Blackhawks 10 observations: Have yourself a day, Ivan Provorov

It was the Ivan Provorov show at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday afternoon when the Flyers took down the NHL-leading Blackhawks, 3-1 (see Instant Replay).
 
The orange and black are now on a season-best four-game winning spree and have climbed past the Capitals for fourth place in the Metropolitan Division.
 
Let’s delve into the game with 10 observations.
 
1. Remember this? When Provorov tripped over his own two skates in Chicago? It was a bit of an embarrassing moment for the 19-year-old. It resulted in an easy Blackhawks goal and, in many ways, served as Provorov’s rookie initiation as he finished a minus-5. Well, you can forget all that. The Flyers’ young, prized blueliner, who entered with one goal in 25 games, showed Chicago his true colors Saturday by ripping off two markers in 31 seconds of the second period. Good for him.
 
2. Brayden Schenn was extra demonstrative after extending the Flyers’ lead to 3-1 in the second period. Can you blame him? The 25-year-old had just one goal in his last 17 games. Schenn has been up and down the lineup, playing on all four lines and at both wing and center. He looked good here with Travis Konecny, who delivered a surgical pass to set up Schenn.
 
3. Patrick Kane had a secondary assist but that was all as the Flyers kept him mostly quiet. Kane, a four-time All-Star and last season’s Hart Memorial Trophy winner for NHL MVP, had 24 points coming in, good for seventh in the league.
 
4. Steve Mason was good in net. He’s now won three straight, a span in which he’s stopped 90 of 95 shots.
 
5. Aside from a too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty by Nick Cousins in the third period, the Flyers played with great discipline. Chicago wasn’t awarded any power plays until there was 6:31 left in the game. The Flyers forced the Blackhawks to beat them at full strength and they couldn’t.
 
6. Cousins, Chris VandeVelde and Michael Raffl all tallied an assist apiece. The Flyers outshot Chicago, 30-27, and had just seven giveaways.
 
7. The Blackhawks’ opening goal was a nice one. Artem Anisimov adeptly eluded a sliding Provorov in front of the crease and fed Artemi Panarin for a one-timer. Mason had no chance. Panarin, as you may know, beat out Shayne Gostisbehere for last season’s Calder Memorial Trophy given to the NHL’s top rookie. The 25-year-old has nine goals and 22 points this season.
 
8. Unexpectedly, Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford underwent an appendectomy at a Philadelphia hospital Saturday, putting Chicago in bind. Second-string netminder Scott Darling received the start, but the Blackhawks needed an emergency backup. Enter the pride of Temple, Eric Semborski, a 23-year-old from Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, who played club hockey for the Owls. Chicago inked him to an amateur tryout, essentially for one day. He was seen in warmups wearing a Temple mask, which sported “Philly Proud” and “Temple Tuff.”
 
 9. Chicago came in 13-3-2 since Oct. 28. However, the Blackhawks overall are 6-6-1 on the road compared to 10-1-2 at home. The Flyers did catch a break as Chicago was without Crawford and three-time All-Star Jonathan Toews (back). Still, a really good win for the Flyers against a team that was atop the NHL.
 
10. Wondering if there were any “woo” chants in the first home game since Jakub Voracek blasted fans for it? Well, only a select few had the audacity to try it but the woos never gained steam. Fans are past it.

Instant Replay: Flyers 3, Blackhawks 1

Instant Replay: Flyers 3, Blackhawks 1

BOX SCORE

The Flyers now have a legitimate win streak going.
 
They defeated the Chicago Blackhawks, 3-1, in a Saturday afternoon matinee at the Wells Fargo Center for their fourth straight victory (see 10 observations).
 
It’s the longest win streak of the season for Dave Hakstol’s club.
 
Rookie defenseman Ivan Provorov scored twice in the second period just 31 seconds apart to erase a 1-0 deficit and put the Flyers ahead. The Flyers scored three goals on their first four shots that period.
 
Chicago has now lost 13 consecutive regular-season games in Philadelphia. The Hawks last won here in 1996-97, when the building opened as CoreStates Center.

Steve Mason (26 Saves) made his third straight start in goal for the Flyers, while Scott Darling was a late sub in goal for Chicago given Corey Crawford’s emergency appendectomy surgery. 
 
Notable goals
Artemi Panarin’s one-timer from the left circle in the first period saw all five Flyers on the opposite side of the ice. 
 
Twice is nice
Provorov’s first goal was high shot above the left circle. His second goal came from the high slot low toward the left post on Darling.
 
What-a-pass
Travis Konecny threaded a puck between two Blackhawks to Brayden Schenn’s stick to set up the Flyers' third goal in the second period.
 
Inconclusive
In an effort to help Mason, Provorov had his glove hand over the puck in the Flyers' net and cleared it out. Replays were inconclusive. All you could see is Provorov moving his glove hand and the puck squirting out … but from where? It should have been a goal, but if the video doesn’t show the puck in the net, even if logic suggests otherwise, it’s not a goal. 
 
Goalie report
Mason didn’t face the kind of shot challenges that Darling did, but he did a very good job of slowing things down and forcing faceoffs by covering up shots in the paint rather than attempt to keep pucks alive.
 
Power play
The Flyers had their pickings on their first opportunity and the Hawks’ lowly 30th-ranked PK units did nothing but rely on Darling to make saves.
 
Penalty kill
Chicago didn’t have a full power play. It got an abbreviated one in the third period, when the Flyers were called for too many men on the ice during a power play, which is rather incongruous when you think about it.
 
Father and sons
The Flyers' annual event began Saturday, as players’ fathers watched the game here at the Wells Fargo Center. The fathers will travel with the team to Nashville for Sunday’s game as well.
 
Scratches
Defenseman Nick Schultz (healthy) and Radko Gudas (ill); forwards Boyd Gordon (back spasms), Sean Couturier (left knee) and Scott Laughton (healthy); goalie Michal Neuvirth (left knee).
 
Up next
This is a back-to-back situation for the Flyers. They leave after the game for Nashville, where they will meet the Predators on Sunday at a rare playing time of 6 p.m.