Philadelphia Flyers: Why Ilya Bryzgalov Can Still Be Answer in Net

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistSeptember 12, 2012

Much more is expected from Ilya Bryzgalov in 2012-13.
Much more is expected from Ilya Bryzgalov in 2012-13.Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

As far as opening acts go, Ilya Bryzgalov did not exactly wow them in Philadelphia.

Certainly, Bryzgalov showed off his "unique" personality during HBO's 24/7 series that preceded the Flyers' appearance in the Winter Classic against the New York Rangers.

When the HBO cameras focused on the Flyers' goalie, he seemed to be more interested in the size of the universe than talking about the business of playing goal in the NHL. That was okay with general manager Paul Holmgren and head coach Peter Laviolette, as long as Bryzgalov was performing at a high level between the pipes.

That's not exactly how it played out for the Flyers last year. He had a 2.48 goals against average and a .909 save percentage while recording a 33-16-7 record.

Those numbers were not awful. They were merely ordinary. Breaking down the numbers further, Bryzgalov was extremely streaky.

He was at his best in March when he put together a shutout streak of 249:43, the NHL's second-longest streak of keeping opponents off the scoreboard since the 1967-68 expansion.

However, he was lousy during the playoffs. The Flyers obliterated the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round before getting eliminated by the New Jersey Devils in Round 2. Bryzgalov had a 3.46 GAA and a painful .887 save percentage.

The Flyers and Bryzgalov both believe he is capable of doing a much better job.

Bryzgalov may have been thinking about the universe last year, but he has been thinking about getting in better shape in the offseason. He has been working out regularly in the summer and has taken on a running regimen that has helped him drop eight pounds, according to a report.

While a lockout is looming in the NHL, Bryzgalov is feeling much more confident about his second season in Philadelphia. Instead of looking back and feeling badly about his performance in his first year with the Flyers, he is looking forward to the 2012-13 season because he is more familiar with the expectations.

"To be honest, I don't analyze everything that happened last year," he told "I feel totally comfortable right now here. I understand the Philly media. I understand the Philly fans right now. I know what to expect from everybody in the locker room."

His attitude seems much better, and the Flyers are hopeful that he will be much better and more consistent than he was last year.

However, it may be a stretch to expect him to become a Vezina Trophy-type goalie like Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers or Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings. The best season of his career was 2009-10, when Bryzgalov had a 2.29 GAA and a .920 save percentage for the Phoenix Coyotes. That's the only season of his career in which his goals against was below 2.43.

Bryzgalov's reputation may be a bit enhanced because he had a 1.46 GAA and a .944 save percentage during the 2006 playoffs with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (they didn't become the Anaheim Ducks until the next season). That's by far the best playoff stretch of his career.

Bryzgalov should be in much better shape this year, and that could lead to a more acceptable performance in goal. One of the keys is getting off to a good start so he can be confident throughout the season and play at a much higher level than he did in 2011-12.

If it doesn't play out that way, the 2012-13 season will likely be his last as the Flyers' No. 1 goalie.