VOORHEES, N.J. – So much about Ilya Bryzgalov is the same, and yet, so much has changed in the last seven months.
He’s still as droll as ever, with his sense of humor constantly on display.
Take for instance his opinion of Scott Hartnell’s beard, one he hasn’t shaved since September 15.
“He looks great,” Bryzgalov said. “I love it. He’s like from the movie ‘Cast Away,’ remember? We need to supply a volleyball for him so he can have a best buddy ‘Wilson.”
And while his playful spirit remains, he has a new focus and approach to playing hockey in Philadelphia as well.
He admits his first season in a hockey-mad market was a bit trying at times. But, now, in his second season, he is in a more comfortable place.
“I had a great experience last year,” Bryzgalov said. “I understand a lot of things and how they work here with the fans and the media and even the management of the team. I made some notes in my head for myself and I’m going to follow it.”
Yes, Philadelphia is different than Pheonix. Yes it’s different from Anaheim. It’s even different from Russia – where Bryzgalov said some “reporters” make up stories about players.
What Philadelphia is, to Bryzgalov, is a demanding town that wants effort, passion and honesty.
And he’s good with that now. And likewise, the Flyers are good with him in this upcoming shortened season.
“This year he knows what to expect,” goalie coach Jeff Reese said last Fall. “He’s a big boy. The focus for me is going to be on the ice.
“He is a bona fide number one goalie in this league and he’s good enough to win the Stanley Cup. Now, will we do it? We’ll see. But he’s good enough.”
He flashed that ability on more than one occasion last season, but was remembered more for bad performances than good ones because of how he responded to them in interviews.
But, it should be noted that Bryzgalov posted numbers that were better than any goalie the Flyers have had since the 2004 lockout.
Bryzgalov had the best goals against average [2.48] of any Flyers goalie since the lockout – when rules changes were made to increase scoring.
He also won 33 games. That tied for the most since Roman Cechmanek won 35 in 200-01.
Oh, and he had six shutouts. That would be more than all Flyers goalies combined for in the previous two seasons and tied for the most by one Flyers goalie since Cechmanek had 10 in 2000-01.
“I don’t think last year was as bad as everyone else thinks,” Reese said. “I agree that there were some ups and downs and I think it was a big time learning experience for him coming from Anaheim and Phoenix.
“But if you look at his numbers, they weren’t too bad and he beat the team [Pittsburgh] that a lot of people thought was going to win the Stanley Cup. I know it was a wide-open series and that it was enjoyable to watch for everybody except goalies and goalie coaches. But, both of those teams can score goals – and he won the series. He took a lot of criticism, but he won the series. Then, the New Jersey series was a completely different series, and I thought he was one of our best players.”
But he’s always going to be under the microscope. Just being a goalie in Philadelphia is a lot of pressure, but when you have great expectations, like Bryzgalov did when he came to town last year on a big money, long-term contract, it’s even greater.
Which is why he’s focused on improving on those numbers in this shortened season. It’s one of the reasons he decided to play in Russia during the last couple months.
He got off to a slow start, but he chalked that up to being behind the KHL teams in conditioning. But once he got into game shape, he actually played really well.
He feels that not only him playing in the KHL, but a good portion of the Flyers roster having played in Europe, or down in the AHL with the Adirondack Phantoms, is going to be a boost for the Flyers as the try to get out of the gate quickly.
“I think it’s better than having 17 players not playing because… I’m telling you for sure that if you don’t have games and don’t have full practices with a coach and the team, you are in a disadvantaged position. I skated here before I went overseas and it was different. When I got [to Russia] I found I was far behind everyone on the team and I needed lots of workouts because I was in a different speed and a different mode. They were in game shape and everything was much quicker and much faster. I needed time to pick it up. That’s why I think for us it’s great that we had most of our guys who have been playing and skating.”
“The schedule is going to be jammed. It’s crazy. Every game is going to be more important than when you have 82 games because if you have a flat stretch you might find yourself in the bottom [of the standings] and you may never get out.”
Danny Briere was back at Skate Zone Tuesday, but he didn’t skate with the team because of his sprained wrist, that also has a bone bruise.
He has yet to see a team doctor because the new CBA hasn’t officially bee ratified, so he can’t say for certain how long he’ll be out of action, but he said the German doctors told him the injury was about a four-week injury.
With the season expected to begin Jan. 19, Briere said that opening date would be the three-week mark since the injury and that he could miss another week to 10 days afterward, but that nothing would be official until he met with team physicians.
Claude Giroux was also back skating with the team and he was asked by reporters about the possibility of being named the team captain. Giroux said it would be an honor if he was asked, but that he knew nothing about the current process and felt uncomfortable talking about it at length.
General manager Paul Holmgren said he would have to talk to coach Peter Laviolette first and then have a discussion with the team before a decision would be made.
To contact Anthony SanFilippo email firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37
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