Inside the Flyers: Flyers goalie coach says Bryzgalov needs to focus on his job on the ice

Posted: October 30, 2011

Minus Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, the Flyers were supposed to huff and puff to score goals this season, and they figured to win many low-scoring games with their defense and their new, elite goaltender.

So, naturally, they were among the league's highest-scoring teams in their first 10 games, and their heralded defense was, in a word, awful. Entering the weekend, they were second in the 30-team NHL in goals scored per game (3.6), and 28th - 28th! - in goals allowed (3.5).

It's been like watching Dexter, the intense show about a vigilante killer, turn into a comedy.

This wasn't how general manager Paul Holmgren envisioned things when he boldly performed the Great Makeover in the summer. Holmgren finally had a top-flight (albeit expensive) goalie, finally had a healthy defense, finally had good overall team speed.

That was before captain Chris Pronger, the future Hall of Fame defenseman, took an inadvertent stick to the eye, before goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, two years removed from being a Vezina finalist, started to resemble Dominic Roussel.

After his first eight games, Bryzgalov's goals-against average was 3.45 and his save percentage was a just-as-dismal .870.

There are many theories as to why Bryzgalov has struggled.

Bryzgalov said that he couldn't put his finger on it, but that he has felt out of sync recently.

Some of it is because he is playing behind a new set of defensemen; they are still learning how to communicate with each other on the ice, still learning each other's habits and idiosyncrasies.

Some of it, those close to the goalie say, is because Bryzgalov is putting pressure on himself, trying to show he deserved the nine-year, $51 million deal. (From here, giving a 31-year-old goalie a nine-year contract made no sense. But I digress.)

Some of it, goalie coach Jeff Reese believes, is because Bryzgalov, a fun-loving, gregarious sort who has brought levity to the Flyers locker room, isn't used to being in a big media market.

"I think it's been a little bit of a distraction for him and I think he has to learn to pick his spots," Reese said Friday. "He just needs to concentrate on stopping the puck - and he's going to figure out when to talk to you guys and when not to talk to you guys. I know he's a great quote. I know he's a great personality. At the same time, he needs to focus on just his job, and controlling what he can."

Bryzgalov was just as quotable in his first four appearances (3-0-1, 1.99 goals-against average, .927 save percentage) as he was in his next four (0-4, 5.05, .802), so it would seem his media sessions and infrequent tweets haven't had as much to do with his struggles as other factors.

Bryzgalov stood tall, seemed in total control, and deftly directed rebounds to his defensemen in his first four starts.

In his next four games, he made himself smaller in the net, and his body language - more flopping, for instance - said that he wasn't in command.

"He hasn't had the same swagger in his game, but that can change," Reese said before the Flyers hosted Carolina on Saturday. "That can change obviously quick, just like it changed the other way. I have no doubt he's going to get it back."

Reese said a series of bad-luck deflections - Washington scored three goals against Bryzgalov on pucks that caromed off a Flyer - jolted the goalie's confidence.

"I've never seen a stretch of bounces like we've been getting," he said.

Bryzgalov threw himself under the bus after Thursday's defense-free 9-8 loss to Winnipeg. He said he felt "lost in the woods" and had "zero confidence."

"He's just being honest with you guys. He's an emotional guy and he cares," Reese said. "He said he let his teammates down; he took the heat for it, and I think that should be respected. He's going to gain points with his teammates, and he should gain points with the fans. He really should because he stepped up and he said, 'We score eight goals, we should win the game.' . . . I respect what he did. I actually thought he was a little too hard on himself."

Reese knows all about hard-to-stomach defeats. He allowed eight goals and was yanked in Calgary's season-ending, 9-6 loss to Los Angeles in a first-round playoff game in 1993.

"I've been through it, but that was the playoffs," Reese said. ". . . I'd rather see this now than in March or April and into the playoffs. He's a smart and intelligent guy. He's going to figure this out, and he's just too big a talent not to."

For the Flyers, the Great Makeover depends on it.


Contact staff writer Sam Carchidi at scarchidi@phillynews.com or @BroadStBull on Twitter.

 

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