Flyers focused on 2 points, not Ilya Bryzgalov

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Flyers focused on 2 points, not Ilya Bryzgalov

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.”

Best of NHL: Capitals blow lead, rebound for OT win over Bruins

Best of NHL: Capitals blow lead, rebound for OT win over Bruins

WASHINGTON -- Nicklas Backstrom scored 1:36 into overtime, helping the Washington Capitals beat the Boston Bruins 4-3 after blowing a three-goal lead Wednesday night.

Justin Williams scored twice and Daniel Winnik also had a goal to put Washington ahead 3-0 about six minutes into the second period.

After Winnik's tally, Washington went over 26 minutes without a shot on goal. Boston dominated the final five minutes of the second period, when Dominic Moore and David Pastrnak beat goaltender Braden Holtby. Colin Miller's power-play score 8:19 into third tied it at 3.

Boston arrived in Washington 4-0-1 over its last five games with three wins in a row, including a 4-3 overtime triumph against Florida on Monday night.

Evgeny Kuznetsov had two assists for the Capitals and Alex Ovechkin got his first point since Nov. 26.

Boston outshot Washington 34-20. The Capitals have won two straight following a three-game losing skid (see full recap).

Staal scores on Leafs again in Wild win
TORONTO -- Eric Staal scored yet another goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs, lifting the Minnesota Wild to a 3-2 victory on Wednesday night.

Staal has 47 points in 43 career games against Toronto, and three of his six goals this season have come against the Leafs.

Jason Zucker and Chris Stewart also scored for the Wild, who wrapped a five-game trip 2-1-2.

Ben Smith and Tyler Bozak had goals for the Maple Leafs, who dropped to 8-4-0 at Air Canada Centre.

Devan Dubnyk made 35 saves for Minnesota and Frederik Andersen stopped 17 shots for Toronto (see full recap).

Connor McDavid, Oilers' speed, skill present Flyers with 'real good challenge'

Connor McDavid, Oilers' speed, skill present Flyers with 'real good challenge'

VOORHEES, N.J. — They are among the very best – and highest scoring — lines in the NHL this season.
 
And they’re gunning for the Flyers on Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
 
Connor McDavid’s unit with Milan Lucic and Leon Draisaitl have a combined 30 goals and 78 points worth of offense. 
 
Among them, the lightning quick McDavid leads the NHL with 36 points. All 11 of his goals are even strength. 
 
He doesn’t have a single power-play goal, but is tied for the league lead with several players, including Claude Giroux, with 10 power-play assists.
 
You can expect to see Pierre-Edouard Bellemare’s unit with Chris VandeVelde and Dale Weise against this line with defenseman Ivan Provorov drawing McDavid for the first time this season.
 
“Speed and skill that Edmonton has up front presents a real good challenge for our team,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. “We have to be better with the puck tomorrow. 
 
“We didn’t do enough when we had the puck. Gave it up a little too easily and because of that, you end up playing defense a lot of the night and that’s what happened last night to us.”
 
Bellemare, who had his share of forward battles with Jaromir Jagr in Tuesday, likes to analyze the matchups against McDavid.
 
“He’s one of the best players in the world,” Bellemare said of the 19-year-old McDavid. “It’s tough not to be excited when playing against a guy who plays like this. He competes every second he is on the ice. That line is an impressive line.”
 
The Flyers better have some bad, choppy ice to slow McDavid down. Edmonton has some of the fastest ice in the league and the Oilers use it to their full advantage. 
 
Asked of McDavid’s tendencies, Bellemare said, “Is that a tendency? To be super fast?”
 
Yes it is. 
 
“When you play against them, he is a kid who is freaky fast right from the start,” Bellemare said. “Against that line, you saw [against Buffalo] that everyone knows how fast he is and he still had two breakaways.”
 
Which means the Flyers need to watch their turnovers, especially in the neutral zone where McDavid can go 60 feet in a flash.
 
“Even blue line to the top of the circle, you can’t turn the puck over,” Bellemare said. “Or he’s gone. This is a tendency we have to be careful of. All of the ice, you can’t give him any time or space. The less time you give him, the bigger chance you have to frustrate a player like this.”
 
Bellemare did some talking with Jagr a couple times in Tuesday’s game. So did Provorov. Bellemare says it helps to add psychology to the mix.
 
“You try to be in his face,” Bellemare said. “If you can win that battle against that line and our first line can win the battle against their fourth line, then it’s a win-win situation. I was trying to be in [Jagr’s] face.”
 
Jagr actually got angrier at Provorov and it showed with his hooking calls. But when Bellemare and Jagr went into the corner, Jagr got testy with his stick there as well.
 
“He was trying to give it to me a little harder,” Bellemare said. “Exactly what I need. If he is less focused on the puck, then maybe I have a chance to win that puck.”
 
McDavid’s focus will be solely on the puck.
 
“McDavid has been playing some pretty good hockey,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. “They’re a high-tempo team. A smart team. We’ve got to be ready.”
 
Loose pucks
Boyd Gordon came off long term injured reserve onto the active roster to give the Flyers 13 forwards. In doing that, Matt Read (oblique pull) went on injured reserve. … Defenseman Michael Del Zotto will sit against the Oilers while Radko Gudas returns from an illness. Gudas will be paired with Mark Streit, as Ivan Provorov remains with Andrew MacDonald for now. … Steve Mason, who did not practice Wednesday, will start in goal.