Philadelphia Flyers: Realistic Expectations for Ilya Bryzgalov Next Season
A rocky start gave way to an encouraging November followed by overnight stardom, a tremendous close to the regular season and eventually a complete playoff meltdown. All told, it was a rather tumultuous beginning to the nine-year, $51 million relationship between Bryzgalov and the Flyers.
After the dust had settled on the 82-game regular season, the Russian netminder had registered a 33-16-7 overall mark while compiling a 2.48 goals-against average coupled with a .909 save percentage. And while Bryzgalov's numbers didn't land him in the top-10 of any of the major statistical categories for goaltenders, there were a number of encouraging takeaways for the nine-year pro.
With 33 victories, Bryzgalov registered 30 or more wins for the third straight season. In addition, his 16 regulation losses were the fewest in five seasons as a No. 1 goaltender in Phoenix and now Philadelphia. Finally, he recorded a stretch in March where he registered seven consecutive victories (including four shutouts) while surrendering just seven goals-against and compiling an eye-popping .965 save percentage.
But then everything unraveled in the playoffs where Bryzgalov recorded his third straight losing postseason. The Philly netminder registered a 5-6 record while posting a pedestrian 3.46 goals-against average and an .887 save percentage. In three straight trips to the playoffs, Bryzgalov has now compiled an 8-14 mark while recording a robust 3.63 goals-against average coupled with an .879 save percentage.
What's more, Bryzgalov was often guilty of surrendering soft goals at inopportune moments. He was sluggish moving post-to-post and didn't display the quick glove reflexes that highlighted his play at the close of the regular year.
How many playoff games will Bryzgalov win next season?
So with one year in Philadelphia under his belt and eight still remaining, what can the Flyers realistically expect from their streaky goaltender next season?
It was clear at various points last year that the pressure of playing in a hockey-crazed market like Philadelphia in front of the rabid Flyers fans was too much for a netminder who had only ever seen backup duties in Anaheim and a starting role in the quiet market of Phoenix.
It's no secret that Philly fans can be tough. They adored Bryzgalov during his magical run in March and mercilessly booed him during his postseason struggles. While that may have caught the goaltender off guard last season, Bryzgalov should now be accustomed to the intensity inherent in Philadelphia sports fans.
And Bryzgalov will need to learn to handle the scrutiny and criticism better than he did a season ago because more will be expected of him next year.
Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren didn't mince words in his end-of-season address noting his disappointment in Bryzgalov. In fairness, he simply said what the rest of the City of Brotherly Love was thinking.
But with a year in Philadelphia behind him and the familiarity with the city and the team that comes with that, Bryzgalov should be well-positioned for a solid second season.
With one of the top offenses in the league in front of him, Bryz should eclipse 30 victories for the fourth straight season. In addition, the Flyers will likely refocus their defensive efforts as a team after a below-average team defense cost the Orange and Black in the postseason.
The loss of Matt Carle via free agency will hurt Philly's ability to break the puck out of the defensive zone, but the Flyers should be sturdier in their own end with the addition of hard-hitting Luke Schenn and a full season of the shot-blocking, defensive-minded Nicklas Grossmann.
Bryzgalov's career numbers (2.52 goals-against average, .915 save percentage) have never been among the league's best, so it's unlikely the Philly netminder will find himself among the league leaders at the close of next season.
But, the Flyers don't need Bryz to stand on his head. They simply need him to give them a chance. That means stopping the pucks he should and sprinkling in a few opportunistic denials.
Bryzgalov has shown that ability at various points in his career and, with the learning curve of Philadelphia and the Flyers now behind him, he should be able to answer the call for the Orange and Black.
Of course, as is the case with the team as a whole, success in Philadelphia lies predominantly on postseason outcomes. An area both Bryzgalov and the Flyers need vast improvement.
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