Philadelphia Flyers

Flyers need Bryzgalov to be consistent moving forward

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Flyers need Bryzgalov to be consistent moving forward

He looked good. That was a regular thing to begin the season. It has not been such a regular thing recently.

The Flyers beat the Washington Capitals, 4-1, on Wednesday at the Wells Fargo Center (see story). Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Simon Gagne and Max Talbot accounted for the four part of the score. Ilya Bryzgalov took care of the rest. He would have had a shutout, but Joel Ward pushed one past him with barely two minutes left in the game. These things happen.

“He was sharp [Wednesday], especially early on when they had a power play and some early opportunities,” Peter Laviolette said. “There were some tricky plays through the slots, a couple of redirects, and he was sharp. There wasn’t a lot of work, maybe 10 quality chances. But, early on, when you want your team to build a lead and shutdown your opponent, you always need saves from your goaltender.”

Bryzgalov made 23 saves against the Caps. Late in the second period, he lunged, covered the puck and ended up on his stomach, face down. It was an excellent effort. The fans cheered. Some of them stood to applaud. There was a time, not long ago, when Bryzgalov fell on his face pretty frequently, only it wasn’t such a good thing then.

A year ago, Bryzgalov looked lost for long stretches of the regular season and playoffs. You know the narrative: He struggled to start the year. He got benched for the Winter Classic. He surrendered an average of 3.6 goals over five games against New Jersey in the postseason. Bryzgalov wasn’t the reason the Flyers lost that series -- but he didn’t do all that much to help them win it, either.

For much of his first year in Philly, he was just a guy. His most memorable moments were off ice. They were fun to read about or listen to, but that was his biggest contribution -- an entertainment value that had far less to do with stopping pucks than the Flyers or their fans would have liked.

Those troubles seemed to be behind him this year. He started the season well even though his team and his teammates didn’t. The defense looked spotty but Bryzgalov kept the Flyers in games and helped them win a few, too. That was a rare thing a year ago -- games that Bryzgalov won almost single-handedly by playing big and making the net small.

Before the Caps game, though, Bryzgalov had a bit of a backslide. His advocates will point out that the defense in front of him hasn’t been consistent, and they are right. His detractors will point out that top-tier goaltenders make sometimes-shoddy defense look much better, and they are right, too.

Whichever camp you claim, these are the facts: In the 10 games before facing Washington, Bryzgalov allowed three, three, four, five, zero, four, two, four, three and two goals, respectively. Some of those bloated figures weren’t all his fault. But, again, he didn’t do a whole lot to play like a superior goaltender worth $51 million.

It makes you wonder which way it will go moving forward. Which Bryz will be in net for the Flyers? Consistent or inconsistent, solid or somewhat soft, good or not-so-great?

“I’ve always been confident,” Bryzgalov insisted on Wednesday.

He has started 20 of the team’s 22 games this season and he leads all goaltenders in minutes. That’s a positive sign even if the results haven’t always been. As of Wednesday, Bryzgalov was 27th in the NHL in goals against and 31st in save percentage.

It is a short season and it is almost halfway over. The Flyers can make the playoffs without Bryzgalov performing as one of the game’s best goaltenders. They can reach the postseason with a goalie that is just a guy. They have done it before. They have done it for years.

What they have not done, not for many years -- more than three-and-a-half decades worth of years for those of you counting (and sobbing) at home -- is win a Stanley Cup with a goalie that is anything less than stellar. For the Flyers to get deep into the postseason and hoist the giant, silver shiny trophy that everyone lusts after, they will need Bryzgalov to earn his rubbles. He did that on Wednesday. He needs to keep doing it.

Gunn's bullet points: Run game comes alive and a kicker saves the day

Gunn's bullet points: Run game comes alive and a kicker saves the day

Five bullet points from the Eagles' 27-24 win over the Giants in their home opener (see breakdown).

• The smallest guy on the field was the biggest hero Sunday. Jake Elliott's 61-yard field goal on the final play of the game saved what could have been a disaster. Wide receiver Torrey Smith said, "We didn't even know he could kick it that far." Other players admitted they had hardly spoken to Elliott in the two weeks he's been here, but they would definitely go out of their way to exchange words with him in the future.

• Thirty-nine (39?!?!) rushing attempts in one game! The Birds had a grand total of 41 attempts in the first two games. The Giants came into this affair allowing 133.5 yards per game on the ground. The Eagles busted them up for 193. Wendell Smallwood told me, "We just knew where the holes would be after watching them on tape." Lane Johnson added, "We did a great job of mixing up our runs inside, outside, mix directions and delay runs."

• The Giants' trio of Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall and Sterling Shepard combined for 24 catches, 278 yards and three touchdowns. They killed the Eagles on slant routes. Considering how depleted the Eagles' secondary was, Jalen Mills said they wanted to keep everything in front of them. When I asked cornerback Patrick Robinson why they played Beckham so much in single coverage, he responded, "We didn't think he was that healthy, but in the second half, we found out otherwise."

• As if the Birds' defense wasn't banged up enough going into this game, they lost Fletcher Cox and Jordan Hicks along the way. Safety Rodney McLeod, who was a scratch for this game, told me he will be ready for Philip Rivers and the Chargers next week.

• Numerous players said they were proud of the way the team came together in unity in response to President Trump's comments. Alshon Jeffery told me, "It doesn't make a difference if you're black or white, we are all in this together."

Flyers camp notes, quotes and tidbits: Roster chatter, Nolan Patrick's status, more

Flyers camp notes, quotes and tidbits: Roster chatter, Nolan Patrick's status, more

VOORHEES, N.J. — The Flyers play a preseason back-to-back set when they visit the Rangers on Monday, then host them Tuesday.

With such a schedule setup, head coach Dave Hakstol already has two lineups in mind as the Flyers continue their evaluation for the opening night roster. The training camp roster is technically at 29, but with three players injured (Cole Bardreau, Colin McDonald, Anthony Stolarz), it's actually at 26 and must be down to 23 by the Oct. 4 season opener.

The obvious roster hopefuls are forwards Nolan Patrick, Oskar Lindblom, Scott Laughton, Taylor Leier and Mike Vecchione, and defensemen Robert Hagg, Sam Morin and Travis Sanheim.

"Everybody that's here is still in the mix," Hakstol said after practice Sunday at Flyers Skate Zone. "I said it a couple days ago, this is when the competition gets pretty high."

If Sunday's practice combinations are any indication of what Monday's lineup will look like at Madison Square Garden, Travis Konecny, Vecchione, Leier and Lindblom will be extras. They were the four-man rotational line Sunday.

Hakstol said there could be some differences from the groupings Sunday when it comes to Monday's game. However, he does hope to play each bubble player at least one of the two games. So whoever sits Monday is more than likely to play Tuesday.

Eyes on Patrick
Patrick is feeling better and better.

After assisting Shayne Gostisbehere's overtime winner in Wednesday's 3-2 preseason split-squad win against the Islanders, Patrick played 16:50 Thursday in the 2-1 OT loss to the Bruins at TD Garden. The No. 2 overall pick saw some power-play time, had a few shots on goal and a pair of takeaways.

"Last game was the most comfortable I've felt," Patrick said Sunday.

He's now played in three preseason games, as well as the rookie game.

Patrick centered Jordan Weal and Wayne Simmonds on the second unit at practice, a spot in which suits his strengths playing between two finishers with a good blend of ways to score.

Look for that line to stick Monday.

"We've only had one game together, but I think Simmer's obviously a top player in the league, he was an All-Star last year, he can put the puck in the net and make plays," Patrick said. "So he's big down low to create space. Jordan's great offensively, he's got a lot of speed, so I just try to play smart and find them when they're open and make plays."

Sound with studs
Hagg has put together a strong camp and preseason.

The 22-year-old defenseman is well-groomed and prides himself on play in his own end. Playing alongside Gostisbehere doesn't hurt, either. It allows Gostisbehere to focus a bit more on producing offensively because Hagg understands his defensive role.

The last two days, Hagg has been paired with Ivan Provorov.

With those two, he isn't complaining and seems to relish being the complementary piece.

"They're pretty good guys to play with," Hagg said.

"I don't mind it. Let them do their job and I'm taking care of the defense, kind of what I did last year, as well. Start getting used to it and I don't have any problems with it.

"I think my best game is in the D-zone, shutting down guys, 1-on-1 battles. And then sure, I can follow up in the game and find some pucks here and there. But my main focus is to be good in the D-zone, take care of that and the rest will take care of itself."

Roster two cents
Vecchione has played only two preseason games thus far and he was among the four-man line at practice. He should play at least one of these games on the back-to-back, but at this point, he looks like he'll start the season at AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley. There just isn't a spot for the rookie forward right now and he won't be on the roster to be an extra man.

Laughton seems to be a safe bet to make the Flyers' roster. He's been playing in the exact role the Flyers are hoping for him and he proved growth to general manager Ron Hextall last season with the Phantoms.

Leier has done everything you'd ask for from a guy fighting for a spot. However, the numbers game likely pegs him at Lehigh Valley to start 2017-18.

Nonetheless, Hakstol has been impressed by the 23-year-old winger, who had a two-goal game Wednesday in the 3-2 split-squad win at the PPL Center.

"It's about playing his role, what his role is," Hakstol said. "Taylor's a responsible two-way forward. When he's been with us, he's played in that third, fourth-line wing type of role, he's killed penalties — that's his chair. He's done a good job of that so far in camp and that's why he's got himself solidly in the mix."

Can't get enough
Weal is always getting in extra work.

Ever since coming to the Flyers in the January 2016 Vinny Lecavalier trade, he is often the first player on the ice before practice even starts. On Sunday, he was the last one off of it with Konecny. Together, the two took in some bonus ice time.

The 25-year-old Weal just loves the rink and it's gotten him from lots of healthy scratches in 2015-16 to what should be a prominent role in 2017-18.

Quotables
"I think they're going to try to stick to it a little bit more. I don't mind it. It's like impossible to cheat now in faceoffs. But some guys, it's kind of a skill to be able to cheat in faceoffs. I don't know, I think they're going to stick to it, and if they do, it's good. Guys are going to be not trying to cheat because you want to stay in the faceoff dot. We'll see what happens."

- Claude Giroux on refs being stricter in the faceoff circle during preseason

"I had quite a few chances that game. Just being able to jump up in the rush at the right times. You're seeing a lot more in the NHL these days that a lot of the offense is being pushed from D-men getting up in the play and joining the rush and creating chances. That's something I've had as a part in my game all the way through my career. I'm just trying to bring that to this level."

- Travis Sanheim on his goal against the Bruins Thursday

Practice lines and pairings

Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek (more on this here).
Jordan Weal-Nolan Patrick-Wayne Simmonds
Jori Lehtera-Valtteri Filppula-Dale Weise
Michael Raffl-Scott Laughton-Matt Read
Mike Vecchione-Taylor Leier-Oskar Lindblom-Travis Konecny

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Robert Hagg
Brandon Manning-Shayne Gostisbehere
Travis Sanheim-Radko Gudas
Sam Morin-Andrew MacDonald

Current roster breakdown

Forwards (18)
Cole Bardreau (injured)
Sean Couturier
Valtteri Filppula
Claude Giroux
Travis Konecny
Scott Laughton
Jori Lehtera
Taylor Leier
Oskar Lindblom
Colin McDonald (injured)
Nolan Patrick
Michael Raffl
Matt Read
Wayne Simmonds
Mike Vecchione
Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal
Dale Weise

Defensemen (8)
Shayne Gostisbehere
Radko Gudas
Robert Hagg
Andrew MacDonald
Brandon Manning
Sam Morin
Ivan Provorov
Travis Sanheim

Goalies (3)
Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth
Anthony Stolarz (injured)