Will Flyers' Improvements Carry Bryz's Success to Bob?

Will Flyers' Improvements Carry Bryz's Success to Bob?

Concern swept Flyers nation following Monday night's 5-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, though it had less to do with the final score than Ilya Bryzgalov's mysterious post-game limp. For now, there is cautious optimism a chip fracture in the goaltender's foot will not keep him out of action for long, but the team is still fighting for home ice in the first round, and more importantly the ability to hit the playoffs running hot. However, they must proceed with Sergei Bobrovsky instead.

That's not meant to slight Bob, who has been more than capable through two NHL seasons, amassing a 40-22-1 record. It's just that Bryz has been playing out of his mind lately. Until three days ago, the last time Bryzgalov allowed more than two goals in a game was March 1, including that magnificent stretch where he pitched four shutouts in five games. That's Cliff-Lee-last-June-(or-August) good.

But to what degree does Bryz deserve the credit on a team that has also been playing improved defense? Specifically, is it mere coincidence he finally found his way out of the woods once Nick Grossmann and Pavel Kubina arrived on the scene -- and can we expect a similarly (ie, relatively) elevated performance from Bob going forward?

There is no question Bryzgalov's play has been brilliant, and it's not entirely due to the bolstered defensive presence in front of him. His vision has improved to the point where he rarely loses sight of the rubber. He's challenging shooters, standing his ground on rushes and breakaways, creeping out to the top of his crease to cut down on the angles. He's also known when to stay home, and cover the puck when in doubt. The soft goals and overplayed angles that dogged him early are extremely few and far between, and he's even been luckier, avoiding some of the deflections that can get the best of any goalie -- including Bryz early on.

Still, adding Grossmann and Kubina hasn't hurt, either. Those two give the Flyers that imposing size on the blue they've sorely lacked since Chris Pronger went down. Along with all of the other injuries the club sustained during the course of the season, they've often been forced to plug rookies Marc-Andre Bourdon and Erik Gustafsson into the mix.

With a couple more veterans back there, suddenly nothing comes easy for the opposing team's offense, particularly in the slot, or in front of the net. The defense pushes a lot more plays to the outside, giving shooters less to work with, allowing Bryz to thrive.

They're also among the better shot blockers in the NHL -- Grossmann cracking the top 25 with 143, and Kubina situated between Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn with 115, despite missing two weeks. Matt Carle leads the club with 150, giving them five players total in the top 65 shot blockers.

All of which has helped lead to a measurable difference on the scoreboard, and in turn, the win column. Prior to the Grossmann acquisition, the Flyers were allowing 2.8 goals per game, and Philadelphia was 32-18-7. Since February 18, goals allowed per game have dipped to 2.1, the Orange and Black is 12-6-1 over that span.

Then again, there probably aren't many people who would argue Grossmann and Kubina HAVEN'T made a difference. The question for tonight is whether Bryzgalov's success can translate to Bobrovsky. It certainly did not in Bob's last outing, a 4-1 loss in New Jersey on March 11, right in the thick of Bryz's shutout streak -- a stretch Kubina was unavailable for, by the way. That's only one game though, and Bob hasn't been getting much time out from under the baseball cap.

Plus, it's worth mentioning the commitment to defense has not come without a cost. Flyers scoring is also down since February 18. Before the trades, the good guys were averaging 3.2 goals per game. Over the last 19, they're netting 2.7 per. Although, they are still comfortably third in the NHL in scoring, so they can probably afford some drop in production.

I suppose we'll get a chance to find out how much one (improved blue-line depth) has been responsible for the other (outstanding goaltending). but speaking short term, the Flyers should be fine. Bobrovsky has been in a bit of a funk, allowing 25 goals over his last six appearances, but if he trusts the guys in front of him, and tries to keep things simple, he should be able to guide the Flyers to a couple wins while Bryz gets healed up for the playoffs.

The Sixers without Joel Embiid: Still just the Sixers

The Sixers without Joel Embiid: Still just the Sixers

Well, if anyone hoped the Sixers' performance at game's end against Portland on Friday night -- with Joel Embiid riding the bench, ruled out for the game's remainder with a left knee contusion -- would carry over to an entirely Embiid-less game again Saturdaynight... I guess you're not alone, 'coz I sorta did. Perhaps it shouldn't have been particularly surprising to see that the Sixers were still the same team last night in Atlanta they were the previous Saturday against the Wizards: good enough to hang against an above-average East team, but not nearly good enough to actually win. 

At least they kept this one closer longer. Normally, against the Hawks, once the single-digit lead in the first half balloons into the double-digit lead in the third quarter, it never deflates back, but this time we cut it down to seven a couple times -- just never hitting that one big shot that would've really made things interesting, ultimately losing 110-93. It doesn't help that Nik Stauskas is in the midst of one of his most refrigerated runs as a Sixer, going just 7-30 (3-16 from deep) over Philly's last five games, or that Dario Saric is similarly bricking shots near and wide, a remarkable 2 for 22 over his last couple contests. 

This, sadly, is a primary reason why the Sixers' playoff hopes, while fun to dream about, are still unlikely to be more than a flicker. Over the next few weeks, the Sixers have a trio of back-to-backs coming up, with the back-end games coming against Milwaukee, Sacramento and San Antonio -- none of which Philly, 2-12 without their star center, are probable to win sans JoJo. Even if they can take care of business with Embiid on the court, it'll be tough to make up the ground that the Sons of Sam need to while they have to drop one every three or four games as Joel sits. 

That's fine, though. This season's been super-fun, but we shouldn't get too far ahead of ourselves: Let's ensure Embiid's health, maybe get Ben Simmons out there too, secure a nice draft pick or two (though the plummeting Kings could be of significant help with that themselves), and focus on making next year even more of a thing. The future remains impossibly bright, even if the present is going to have to be borderline-unwatchable once or twice a week.

Flyers-Islanders 5 things: Still trying to clean up mistakes after bye week

Flyers-Islanders 5 things: Still trying to clean up mistakes after bye week

Flyers (22-19-6) at Islanders (19-17-8)
6 p.m. – CSN/CSNPhilly.com and streaming live on the NBCSports app; Pregame Live begins at 5:30.
 
The struggling Flyers head north Sunday night to battle the Metropolitan Division rival Islanders at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
 
Let’s take a closer look at Sunday’s matchup.
 
1. New week, same Flyers
Those hoping the Flyers would be a refreshed, recharged team after the bye week met a harsh reality Saturday night.
 
The Flyers were blown out of the Wells Fargo Center in a 4-1 loss to the Devils that saw the same things continue to haunt the home team — defensive breakdowns and a lack of offense, among other things.
 
It’s no secret this season is quickly slipping away from the Flyers. They’ve lost their hold on the last wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference to the upstart Maple Leafs and the Hurricanes, Panthers and Devils are breathing right down the Flyers’ backs. To pile on the good news, every other team in the East is within four points of the Flyers, including the last-place Isles, who have 46 points compared to the Flyers’ 50 points.
 
Needless to say, the margin for error is all but gone.
 
This has been said many times recently, but the emphasis still hasn’t waned — if the Flyers want to save this season, it has to start with the next game.
 
2. What’s the mindset?
Michal Neuvirth, who was pulled before the third period of Saturday’s game for “precautionary reasons,” had a striking quote after the loss to the Devils.
 
“When you lose so many games, you lose confidence,” he told reporters.
 
He’s not kidding, and further proof of that came in the loss to the Devils, when the game was tied 1-1. In the second period, Radko Gudas was whistled for a clipping penalty and, boy, was it an awful call. It was nothing more than a hard hip check, aka a solid hockey play. Gudas got the two-minute minor and then Wayne Simmonds received an extra two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct for protesting the call, giving Jersey a full two-man advantage.
 
Predictably, the Devils scored to take the lead. Also predictably, the Flyers unraveled after that point.
 
It just seems lately that when something goes wrong for the Flyers, it all goes wrong for the Flyers. And that’s a troubling trend.

3. Changes in Brooklyn
Superstar John Tavares is still there, but beside that, plenty has changed since the Flyers and Islanders last met, a 3-2 Flyers shootout win in November at the Barclays Center.
 
No more Jack Capuano behind the Isles’ bench, as he was recently canned amidst his team’s struggles. Assistant general manager Doug Weight, whom you may remember from his not so distant playing days, is the interim head coach for the Isles.
 
Remember goalie Jaroslav Halak, who started the two teams’ first meeting? It’s no longer his net in Brooklyn, as he’s had a falling out with the club, lost the starting job to Thomas Greiss and was recently put on waivers.
 
And the Isles have responded positively to the changes, as they’ve won three in a row heading into Sunday night’s contest. The last-place moniker is misleading because the Isles are still just five points out of the final wild-card spot and still have tons of talent.
 
4. Keep an eye on …
Flyers: Let’s go with Travis Konecny. Let’s just say the Flyers are in need of an energy jolt these days and the rook has just the type of skillset to provide it. He scored his team’s only goal Saturday against the Devils and isn’t afraid to throw his body around if need be. He also scored against the Isles earlier this season. He’s now up to eight goals and 14 assists on the season.
 
Islanders: It has got to be John Tavares. The guy is an absolute star, but still could fit into the “underrated” or “under the radar” categories just because he plays for the Isles. I mean, check out this goal he scored earlier this year against St. Louis. Holy moly. While you’re at it, get a glimpse of this one he scored against Dallas last week. He’s got 19 goals and 17 assists on the year. In his career against the Flyers, he’s got 15 goals and 13 assists for 28 points, the third-most points he’s tallied against any team in the NHL.
 
5. This and that
• In a scheduling quirk, Sunday evening will mark the fourth straight time the Flyers and Islanders will play in Brooklyn. They haven’t met in Philadelphia in over a full calendar year — Jan. 9, 2016, a 4-0 Flyers win

• Sunday is the second of four meetings between the teams this season. They’ll also play Feb. 9 and March 30, both times in South Philly.

• Greiss will start in net for the Isles on Sunday. He’s recorded shutouts in his last two starts. For the season, he's 12-7-2 with a .927 save percentage and a 2.29 goals-against average.

• Reinforcements could be on the way Sunday for the Islanders, as forward Cal Clutterbuck (lower-body) and defenseman Johnny Boychuk (upper-body) could be ready to return to the lineup after injuries.

• Sunday’s game will be the second of a back-to-back set for both teams. The Flyers are 6-3-2 this year in such situations.

• The Flyers’ ugly road losing streak is up to nine games. A loss Sunday would make it a not-so-perfect 10.