Ilya Bryzgalov is 2-4-0 with a 2.80 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage with the Oilers. (USA Today Images)
EDMONTON, Alberta -- It was bound to happen eventually. After all, the NHL isn’t that “hu-man-gous big.”
When the Flyers take the ice tonight against the Oilers, a familiar foe will await them in the opponent’s net: Ilya Bryzgalov.
Bryzgalov had the remainder of his nine-year, $51 million contract bought out by the Flyers last summer. He signed a new deal with the Oilers in November, after a strange, brief stint with the ECHL’s Las Vegas Wranglers.
Known for his off-ice antics as much as anything he accomplished on the ice in Philadelphia, Bryzgalov adds a definite element of intrigue to the Flyers’ matchup with the Oilers. But, coach Craig Berube warned, he cannot become a distraction.
“Our team needs not to worry about him and who’s in net,” Berube said after the Flyers’ last practice before they took off for Canada. “They need to worry about their game and how they need to play … to get two points. That’s it. That’s it. If they don’t do that, we’re not going to be successful. You need to think properly, get your head on straight before the game.”
These Flyers are no strangers to facing former teammates. Just a few weeks back, they welcomed Danny Briere to the Wells Fargo Center for the first time since his contract was also bought out in June. As the season goes on, they’ll face off against Max Talbot, Jaromir Jagr and Sergei Bobrovsky -- just to name a few.
“We’ll approach it like any game,” Scott Hartnell said. “The same way you play Danny Briere or Simon Gagne, or Carts [Jeff Cater] and Richie [Mike Richards] when they were traded. I like Bryz. He was a goofy guy. You had to know how to take his personality.”
For any player who’s spent significant time in the NHL, competing against old friends and teammates is just part of the job.
“It’s like any old teammates,” Braydon Coburn said. “It’s weird playing against him. You compete against him all year in practice, and it’s kind of neat to play against guys who have been with you a while. When you get into the heat of the battle and things start moving quick out there, all pleasantries get pushed aside.”
There can be, though, a bit of an advantage to facing a goaltender you know well. Bryzgalov spent two seasons with the Flyers, a stretch during which most of the current team was on the roster. They know Bryzgalov. They know his strengths, his weaknesses, and what it takes to rattle him.
Bryzgalov has had a bit of a rough start with the Oilers. He’s 2-4-0 with a 2.80 goals-against average and .915 save percentage. Knowing how to get under his skin could help the Flyers even further.
“Playing against him, you shoot against a goalie a couple years, you know where to shoot and what to do, and what creates havoc for him,” Hartnell said. “And we have to do that.”
Tonight’s game kicks off a significant six-game road trip for the Flyers, who could possibly pull away from some of the Metropolitan Division pack with a strong stretch (see story). Starting the trip with a win needs to be their focus -- not facing off against a wacky former teammate.
“It’s better for the media, it gives you something to write about,” Jakub Voracek said. “But for us, it’s just another game and we’ve got to get two points. It’ll be exciting to see and play against Bryz, but nothing more.”