For Flyers, solid Bryz would go long way in short season

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Ilya Bryzgalov makes a save against Rangers in second period.
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Ilya Bryzgalov makes a save against Rangers in second period.
Posted: January 25, 2013

THE FLYERS were oh-for-three this season and playing against a Rangers team against whom they were seemingly oh-for-forever - and so, of course, they played great. Desperation can be your best friend sometimes.

And after it was over, goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, the philosopher king, said this:

"We beat a great team today and, most importantly, we played great hockey . . . If we continue to play like that, we'll probably get lots of wins."

What he said was as simple as it was truthful. There are no great conclusions to be drawn here, not yet. The Flyers were not in danger of anything on Thursday night, not really, not unless you consider death-by-small-sample-size to be a legitimate concern.

It really is early still. The biggest issue is the injuries that multiply by the hour, it seems. They should be getting Danny Briere back for the weekend, which is the good news. But Scott Hartnell has a broken foot and could be out for 2 months - and the signing of Mike Knuble will not fill those minutes. And now defenseman Andrej Meszaros might have a shoulder injury, an oft-troubled area for him.

That all of this is not good is obvious enough. But what it does, more than anything, is place increasing importance on the play of No. 30 in the Flyers' net. That Bryzgalov's play has gone largely unnoticed and uncommented upon through the first four games might be the best news the Flyers have received.

We all know the roller-coaster history of Flyers goaltenders in general and this goaltender in particular. With the team around him, and especially the special teams, trying to get their legs under them, the Flyers cannot possibly deal with a wild ride here from Bryzgalov. And what they have gotten is solid, dependable, focused play.

The game against the Rangers turned in the third period during a 4-minute Rangers power play - with 2 of the minutes being a five-on-three power play. A lot of players did a lot of simple, clutch things during that stretch, which ended with the building playoff-loud and the Flyers obviously confident - but Bryzgalov led them. Again, it was simple and focused, draining the emotion out of a tense moment.

"It was huge," Bryzgalov said. "With the game on the line, I think guys did a tremendous job."

He said he hoped it would be a confidence builder for the team going forward - but, really, who knows? Because that is the thing about this bunch of Flyers. While they are not offensively challenged, it isn't as if the goals are going to arrive for these guys in an avalanche. This is going to have to be a persistent, hard-working operation over the long haul.

That was the kind of game this was - a lot of hitting, a couple of fights, the classic organizational mix. A questioner wondered if Bryzgalov thought this game exemplified "Flyers hockey."

This was his reply:

"I don't know exactly what this means, 'Flyers hockey.' But I like the way the team played tonight and I think we deserved the win tonight because guys played unbelievable. The team looked sharp and crisp. There was a great sacrifice made, guys blocking shots. Nobody cheats. I can't say enough words - it was just a great game tonight."

The Rangers had been their most persistent nemesis; the Flyers had not beaten them since the 2011 season. Picked by many to make a strong run at the Stanley Cup in this lockout-shortened season, both deep and defensively responsible - and with Henrik Lundqvist in goal - the Rangers also have stumbled out of the chute. Which means, well, nothing.

Because we still have a long way to go, even if it is a short season. The first couple of weeks here really are like the cavalry charge out of the starting gate at the Kentucky Derby. On the one hand, amid all of this initial jostling, early positioning does matter somewhat. But there is a lot of racetrack ahead, and the most important thing is not so much to be in the lead on the first turn as it is to not put yourself in an untenable position.

Which, again, is why Bryzgalov's early play has been so significant. Because as long as he is good, this thing has a long way yet to run.


Email: hofmanr@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @theidlerich

Columns: philly.com/

RichHofmann

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