Flyers have a winner in goal

Posted: October 12, 2011

GOALTENDER Ilya Bryzgalov has done precisely what the Flyers had hoped he would: Shore up a position that has been a big trouble spot for the team.

In fact, Bryzgalov has been even better than that. In leading the Flyers to victories in their first two games, he has provided them not just immediate stability but a glimpse into what could well be the beginning of a new era.

He beat the Bruins, 2-1, in the season opener (the very Boston team that swept the Flyers from the playoffs last year), and he came back and shut out the Devils, 3-0.

But Bryzgalov knows better than to get ahead of himself. When it was suggested that the Flyers have been searching for a dependable goaltender for years and that he would be under pressure to deliver in the regular season and beyond, the amiable Russian smiled.

"Yes, yes, we know that [winning] is our goal," said Bryzgalov, signed as a free agent during the offseason to a 9-year, $51-million contract. "That is why we work hard everyday. But it is a long season and everybody - [the media], players and fans - have to be patient. Because it is a long road, 82 games, and it can get bumpy."

The "long road" winds into the Wells Fargo Center for the Flyers' home opener this evening against the Vancouver Canucks. Although he saw action here during the preseason, Bryzgalov said he could not be more "excited" to play in front of the home crowd.

"Home openers are always wild," said Bryzgalov, who won a Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007. "Especially in hockey towns like this."

Right winger Jaromir Jagr echoed that sense of anticipation. A perennial NHL All-Star who won back-to-back Stanley Cups with the Penguins in the early 1990s, Jagr played the last three seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League before signing as a free agent. Jagr said there have been "a lot of special games" for him this season.

"The first game of the season, the first game back after 3 years, and now the first home opener," said Jagr, who had an assist in the victory over the Bruins. "No matter how old you are, or how many years you have played, you are always nervous the first 10 minutes of the first period. It would be good if you could score the first goal on the first shift [to ease the tension], but it is not always that easy."

Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said, "I think everybody is" [looking forward to the home opener]. He said it was "not such a bad thing" for the team to open on the road, but added, "Certainly, you would rather play in front of your fans and in your building."

Laviolette said he has been pleased with how well the Flyers have played.

"I liked the improvement from Game 1 to Game 2," he said. "I would like to continue to see in improvement in the home opener."

For a team composed of so many new parts, the Flyers have been remarkably cohesive. Rookie forward Matt Read said that while it "usually takes 20 or so games" for players to bond, the Flyers are beginning to "form an identity."

"We are reading each other well," he said. "And we are beginning to click. Hopefully, it will continue."

The Flyers have been especially skilled at killing penalties, allowing just one goal in 10 opportunities so far. They have been aggressive and pressuring the puck. Laviolette said that will be especially necessary against Vancouver, a team with a disciplined power play.

"The penalty-killers have done a good job," said Laviolette. "It is important to make sure the execution of your system is good. Vancouver is a talented group, especially their first unit."

Bryzgalov said he was "amazed" by the performance of the players in front of him.

"Guys have done a great job," he said. "They eliminate the big chance. Guys have cleared the puck, moved it out of the slot. They have been an amazing group."

Jagr praised Bryzgalov, and pointed out that strong goaltending would be the key to any Stanley Cup run.

"What a signing!" said Jagr. "And he has 9 years left! It has been my experience that it is tough to win games without good goaltending, especially in the playoffs. The goaltender is going to make a huge difference."

Jagr laughed when asked how he expectsd Flyers fans to greet him.

"I will be happy if they scream my name after the season," he said. "That means we will have done very good."

A good cause

The Flyers' Wives will be selling "Love for the Lokomotiv" wristbands for $10 during the home opener. Proceeds will benefit the families of the KHL team whose players perished in a plane crash in Russia last month.

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