Growing confidence behind Bryzgalov's turnaround, Flyers goalie coach says

with a 1.24 goals-against averageand a .956 save percentage in March. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
with a 1.24 goals-against averageand a .956 save percentage in March. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer (Ilya Bryzgalov is 9-1-1)
Posted: March 24, 2012

Ilya Bryzgalov allowed a goal on the first shot he faced Thursday before turning into Shutdown Goalie.

Again.

He stopped the last 30 shots and then surrendered just one goal in four shootout attempts as the Flyers outlasted Washington, 2-1, at the Wells Fargo Center.

A reporter asked Bryzgalov if he would have been able to regroup from his early-game mistake - he poke-checked the puck to Alex Ovechkin, who scored after just 26 seconds - a few months ago, back when he was playing more like Tommy Soderstrom than Bernie Parent.

"Shhhhh. I don't hear your question," Bryzgalov deadpanned. "The question you are asking is about me."

Bryzgalov's makeover - he has gone from the mediocre goalie who was weighing down the Flyers to someone who has carried them for the last month - has nothing to do with a change in technique, said the man who may know him better than anyone else in the organization.

It has to do with a change in his psyche.

"I think he's just more comfortable in his environment," said goalie coach Jeff Reese, whose team will play host to sad-sack Montreal on Saturday night. "But the biggest thing for me - and it started on the West Coast swing - he just started to get his confidence. We can look for the magic bullet, and the meetings and everything, but it's just confidence."

The confidence, Reese said, has Bryzgalov playing with an edge. Whether it's because of a meeting he had with the team leaders last month, or the addition of massive defensemen Nick Grossmann and Pavel Kubina, Bryzgalov seems to be more relaxed and more in control.

"He just looks bigger in the net right now. He's more aggressive when he needs to be. He's back when he needs to be. He's just more comfortable," Reese said. "It's more on the ice than anything, but it's off the ice, too. I think he's become a little more comfortable with his environment."

Bryzgalov's turnaround started when he stopped four of five shots in a shootout as the Flyers defeated host Calgary, 5-4, on Feb. 25.

"The shootout certainly helped," said Reese, mindful that Bryzgalov also played well in losses to Edmonton, 2-0, and San Jose, 1-0, during that trip. "Everybody was talking about the shootout [losses], and he put that to rest. I think on that swing, he started finding his game. He started looking more comfortable to me and his balance was better. That's when it started, and he has just kind of carried it through."

His March statistics: 9-1-1, a 1.24 goals-against average, and a .956 save percentage. The numbers were bolstered by the NHL's second-longest scoreless streak (249:43) since 1967-68.

"He's been an all-star for us this past month," winger Scott Hartnell said.

Bryzgalov's backup, Sergei Bobrovsky (remember him?), is 23 and still developing and refining his game. But a 31-year-old veteran like Bryzgalov is not altering his techniques.

For Bryzgalov, "most of it is mental," Reese said of his resurgence. "He's challenging, he's reading the plays very well. I even think he's handling the puck very well. . . . He's having fun. He's enjoying playing, enjoying the workload."

Bryzgalov has played in 55 games and is expected to be used in six or seven of the final eight contests. He averaged 67 games with Phoenix the last three seasons.

"He's used to playing a lot of hockey," Reese said. "He didn't play as much in the beginning of this season as he has in the past, but he just likes the workload. For a bigger man, it keeps him sharper, I believe, and keeps his timing."

The Flyers are 2-1 against the last-in-the-East Canadiens, who played Ottawa on Friday night.

Bryzgalov was a 5-1 loser in his only game against Montreal this season, back on Oct. 26, one night before he was shelled by Winnipeg and said he was "lost in the woods."

He has found his way out.


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

 

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