Winter Classic 2012: Why Ilya Bryzgalov Is Key to the Philadelphia Flyers Season

Joe RussomannoCorrespondent IJanuary 3, 2012

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 02:  Ilya Bryzgalov #30 of the Philadelphia Flyers warms up prior to the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park on January 2, 2012 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

After the Philadelphia Flyers started three different goaltenders in last year's Stanley Cup playoffs, General Manager Paul Holmgren knew he needed a legitimate No. 1 goaltender.

So on June 23, 2010, the Flyers signed veteran goalie Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year, $51 million deal with a $5.6 million annual cap hit. It seemed the bleeding was stopped in Philadelphia's net.

That hasn't quite been the case this season.

Ilya Bryzgalov's statistics of three goals per game and a sub-.900 save percentage are awful to say the least.

However, that is not to say Bryzgalov hasn't shown Philly fans his upside.

In games the Flyers won, his numbers are: 14 games played, with 1.95 goals against average and a .932 save percentage. In games the Flyers lost or he was pulled: 12 games played, with 4.42 goals against average and a .828 save percentage.

His play has been bipolar to say the least.

Some of the bad numbers have were the result of poor play by his teammates in front of him, but Bryzgalov has looked sluggish and unfocused at times.

Bryzgalov has shown some flash, like this save on Steve Downie, but went on to give up five goals on 16 shots in the next meeting between the two teams.

It didn't help that Steven Stamkos was left all alone to Brygalov's far side.

The Flyers have had their defensive breakdowns, but Bryzgalov has shown he can make a big save when it counts. Time and time again, Bryzgalov has made the "momentum saves" he is suddenly accused of not making.

His understudy, Sergei Bobrovsky, showed yesterday he continues to struggle with elevated shots. The game yesterday was winnable for the Flyers, but Bobrovsky is just not ready for these situations.

The Bryzgalov naysayers might point out that his quirky attitude and comments are hurting the team. After all, to be a professional athlete, you need thick skin.

Furthermore, when looking at the full spectrum of colorful comments Bryzgalov gave us last weekend, he made one very important statement: "I heard it was still the main goal in Philadelphia to win the Stanley Cup..."

If he's guilty of looking ahead, at least he's looking toward what is important—winning the Stanley Cup.

Going forward, the Flyers need to fix what they can.

One thing they can fix is defensive zone breakdowns. These have plagued the team this season, and it's asking a lot from your goalie to make all those stops.

Ilya Bryzgalov has to get his mind focused on what's at stake. He needs to fight harder in certain situations than he did on the Ryan Callahan goal in New York.

Furthermore, Coach Laviolette can't continue to yank Bryzgalov in the midst of a hot streak the way he did going into the game with Montreal on December 15th.

Up until then, Bryzgalov had been on a six-game winning streak and had only given up more than two goals twice.

After the night off against Montreal, Bryzgalov was thrown back into a game against Boston, where he was toasted. Granted, Boston deserved that win as much as New York deserved the win yesterday.

However, it has been known that Bryzgalov is a streaky goaltender, and it's better to ride him while he's hot and wait for him to fizzle than take him out and throw him out of his groove.

He cannot start every game this season, but Laviolette needs to get a better handle on when to give Bryzgalov the hook.

Without solid goaltending, the Flyers have stumbled time and again.

After a mega-million-dollar investment in a goalie that was a Vezina finalist two years ago, the Flyers need Bryzgalov to be "that guy" in Philadelphia.

He's had his ups and downs this year—now it's time for him to be a little less down and a lot more up.