Flyers makeover revolves around goalie Ilya Bryzgalov

Ilya Bryzgalov gives the Flyers their first shutdown goalie since Ron Hextall.
Ilya Bryzgalov gives the Flyers their first shutdown goalie since Ron Hextall. (SARAH J. GLOVER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: September 18, 2011

You have probably noticed that this Flyers training camp has prompted more questions than usual.

Questions about the makeup of all the lines. Questions about how all the new players will fit in. Questions about how the team will make up the goals scored by the captain and his sidekick, each of whom were dealt for younger and, theoretically, hungrier players.

But, for the first time in recent memory, there are no questions about the guy in goal.

That's the best thing about Camp Lavy.

Ilya Bryzgalov gives the Flyers their first shutdown goalie since Ron Hextall, and he is the main reason the team, for all its uncertainty, has an optimistic outlook.

General manager Paul Holmgren ripped the team apart in the summer because Ed Snider, the 78-year-old club chairman, said he never wanted to go through another playoff fiasco like 2010.

In last year's playoffs, you'll recall, the Flyers equaled a dubious NHL record by making seven in-game goalie changes.

Hence, the Great Summer Makeover.

Will Bryzgalov, whose signing had a domino effect, justify all the moves?

We have eight or nine months to find out.

On paper, it's hard to fathom the Flyers' matching last year's record (47-23-12) and points total (106, second in the East).

Unless 39-year-old Jaromir Jagr turns the clock waaaaay back to his 50-goal days with the Penguins and Rangers, the offense has taken a step back. A year ago, the Flyers were third in the NHL, averaging 3.12 goals per game.

The Flyers might have fewer regular-season wins than last year and actually be a more formidable playoff team.

Bryzgalov, of course, is the reason.

Yes, his playoff resumé isn't overwhelming, but most of it was accomplished with mediocre defenses in front of him.

Now he is surrounded by one of the league's best defensive corps, provided new captain Chris Pronger returns to form after a forgettable four-surgery season. Pronger, who hopes to be ready for the Oct. 6 opener in Boston; Matt Carle; Andrej Meszaros; Kimmo Timonen; and Braydon Coburn help form arguably the premier defensive unit in Flyers history.

And when they do make a mistake, they have Bryzgalov to bail them out.

"Just going against him in practice, he's incredible," winger Scott Hartnell said the other day.

With Bryzgalov, the Flyers will win a lot of low-scoring games. Sort of like the Phillies with their great pitching.

And if the younger offensive players (Claude Giroux, James van Riemsdyk, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, et al.) raise their games, they will complement veterans like Danny Briere, Hartnell, and Jagr.

Where will the players fit? Here's my two cents:

Briere and Hartnell, like Giroux and van Riemsdyk, had good chemistry together last season, so it seems natural to keep them together. If Jagr teams with Giroux and van Riemsdyk, he would be the perfect complement to the younger, blooming players. He would also give Giroux more open space.

On paper, the speedy Voracek or the antagonizing Simmonds would work well with Briere and Hartnell. The team's seven exhibition games, starting Tuesday in Toronto, will give coach Peter Laviolette a chance to experiment.

The third line could have Schenn centering Max Talbot and Simmonds or Voracek.

Matt Read and Michael Nylander are also among the camp hopefuls who could work their way onto the third unit. Ditto 18-year-old wunderkind Sean Couturier, who hopes to avoid going back to juniors, where he has posted consecutive 96-point seasons for Drummondville.

The fourth-line favorites: Blair Betts centering Jody Shelley and Andreas Nodl, though Tom Sestito (6-foot-5, 228 pounds), Zac Rinaldo, Eric Wellwood, and Adam Mair are hopefuls - and Talbot could end up on this unit.

The jockeying for spots will be a natural story line, but the Flyers are thankful that there are no questions about the identity of their starting goalie.

Two years removed from being a Vezina Trophy finalist, Bryzgalov is a goalie who can steal games in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

It's been a while since the Flyers could boast someone like that.

Contact staff writer Sam Carchidi at, or @BroadStBull on Twitter.


comments powered by Disqus