Frank Seravalli: Could Bobrovsky be the Flyers' answer in goal?

Sergei Bobrovsky, of Russia, was signed by the Flyers as an undrafted free agent.
Sergei Bobrovsky, of Russia, was signed by the Flyers as an undrafted free agent.
Posted: October 11, 2010

A little more than 12 months ago, after the Flyers opened their 2009-10 season with a methodical shutout win over the Carolina Hurricanes, a relative unknown with big question marks left fans wondering if general manager Paul Holmgren found a diamond in the rough in Ray Emery.

Many thought Emery, who was blacklisted from the NHL and sent to play in Russia after being run out of Ottawa because of boorish off-ice behavior, was the solution to the Flyers' goaltending conundrum.

Emery was quick, acrobatic and effective.

Scouts wondered aloud as to whether Emery could ever get his psyche in sync with his physical talent.

Flash forward 1 year: Enter Sergei Bobrovsky, a complete unknown with big question marks, who has left fans wondering if he is the next great goaltender to emerge from Russia.

Bobrovsky, 22, went undrafted because of a complex KHL-to-NHL transfer agreement that left some of Russia's top talent uncharted for fear that a draft pick might be wasted on a player who more than likely never will make it to North America.

Bobrovsky is faster post-to-post than one of Emery's Lamborghinis, has a great feel for shots, and never quits on a puck.

What could set Bobrovsky apart - from Emery, Antero Niittymaki, Roman Cechmanek and all others who have tried to be the "next one" - could be what resides between his ears.

He does not bat an eye at pressure.

After shutting out Pittsburgh for two periods in his NHL debut, on a night when the Penguins celebrated the opening of a new arena, Bobrovsky said he does not care about a rivalry between the Flyers and Penguins. He has not been in the United States long enough to even know the two teams are in the same state.

Bobrovsky cannot read this story without the help of a translator. He cannot read the Twitter comments, the online message boards, and he is just beginning to understand what is being said on the radio and television, thanks to thrice-weekly English lessons. Maybe that's a good thing.

Instead, Bobrovsky just smiles, nods his head, and occasionally offers a "See ya," before leaving the rink - easily his best English phrase.

"He just wants to play," goaltending coach Jeff Reese said Friday. "He just loves the game. He would stay out on the ice all day if he could."

You can notice Bobrovsky's calming influence on the ice, even when the play and pace are frantic.

"I think he's shown great poise," Reese said. "His game is really under control. He's a lot more polished than I thought he would be when he came over. He's just got to get used to the style here, that's all.

"I thought he played excellent. He was a difference-maker. I'm very, very pleased with what he did. He's starting to adjust to the different situations. He's getting used to guys crashing the net, the traffic, guys shooting from everywhere."

Like the Flyers' management, Bobrovsky's teammates are excited. But they know it's way too early to heap expectations on a 22-year-old goaltender who probably doesn't know enough about the league to recite all 30 teams.

"You want to get excited, but it was just one game," Danny Briere said. "For us, it really doesn't matter who is in net. We still have to play the same."

Two weeks ago, Emery was back in Philadelphia to clear out his apartment and collect his belongings. Emery has not skated since last February, shortly before undergoing a complex transplant in an attempt to cure avascular necrosis, a lack of blood flow to his hip bone.

Emery, who has been rehabbing in the Toronto area, did not return a phone call or e-mail from the Daily News yesterday.

Emery's somber return was a stark reminder that a strong start - like last year's 2-0 win over Carolina on Oct. 2 - was nothing more than that. Bobrovsky was unquestionably impressive on Thursday night. But there is no need to break out the perfumed oil just yet.

Bobrovsky has played exactly 60 minutes in an NHL net. And he still trails Gary Inness, Wendell Young and Stephane Beauregard on the Flyers' all-time wins list.

By multiple games.

SLAP SHOTS

The Flyers are 24-12-5-1 in home openers in franchise history and 7-4-1-1 at openers since moving to the Wells Fargo Center in October 1996. Last year, they opened with a thrilling, 6-5 overtime win over Washington ... Approximately 300 tickets remain for tonight's game ... Chris Pronger (knee) could be ready to return to the lineup tonight.

ON-ICE

STAT WATCH

15: Number of times the Flyers have been shorthanded through two games. The penalty kill is 13-for-15 (86.7 percent), with one goal coming on a five-on-three disadvantage.

19: Number of minor penalties for the Flyers through two games, most in the NHL. Scott Hartnell has racked up 21 minutes (all against St. Louis), tied for first in the NHL through Saturday.

21:13: James van Riemsdyk's time-on-ice total Saturday night in St. Louis, a career high for the 21-year-old. His previous high was 20:51 vs. Montreal on April 2, 2010.

THE WEEK AHEAD

Vs. Colorado

Tonight, 7 o'clock

As the Flyers' first banner since the 2003-04 Atlantic Division championship is unfurled in the Wells Fargo Center, the defending Eastern Conference champions begin their first homestand since Patrick Kane dashed their Stanley Cup hopes on June 9. They will face an Avalanche team that beat the Blackhawks Thursday night in Denver. Colorado (43-30-9) finished eighth in the West last season before being bounced by San Jose in six games.

Vs. Tampa Bay

Thursday, 7 o'clock

This game marks the return of Simon Gagne to Philadelphia. Gagne, who spent 10 memorable but oft-injured seasons with the Flyers and ranks ninth on the team's all-time goals list, was traded to Tampa on July 19 for Matt Walker and a fourth-round pick. It is also the Flyers' first glimpse of the new-look Lightning, who were extensively retooled by new general manager Steve Yzerman. The Flyers acquired defenseman Andrej Meszaros from Tampa on July 1 for a second-round pick. Tampa, which opened the season with a win against Atlanta on Saturday, will fly to Philly late Wednesday night after its game in Montreal.

Vs. Pittsburgh

Saturday, 7 o'clock

The Flyers and Penguins face each other three times in October. Sergei Bobrovsky was brilliant against Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Co. on Oct. 7, shutting them out through two periods on opening night at the new Consol Energy Center. Pittsburgh fell to Montreal, 3-2, on Saturday.

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