NEW YORK – When things aren’t going your way, there’s always room for a little optimism.
And while players and coaches alike are nearing the tipping point with the Flyers offensive malaise after another hard-to-swallow loss, this time 2-1 to the New York Rangers, there was one thing to grip onto and hold on tight.
Ilya Bryzgalov, the much-maligned goalie of the Flyers, the guy who so many outside of the organization questioned coming into this season, the guy some people wanted to escort out of town before the season began, has been superb.
Pick a game, any game, and Bryzgalov was one of the three stars. Even in Buffalo, where he allowed four goals, he was the best Flyer on the ice.
And although in six starts his record stands at 2-4, it’s hard to find another player who has been as consistent as Bryzgalov.
He stepped it up to another level Tuesday.
Despite the loss, Bryzgalov made 26 saves. It seemed like each and every one of them was highlight-worthy.
And while that might be overstating it a little bit, it’s only a little bit. In a season where he’s been the best Flyer, this was his best game.
And with a team that has only scored more than two goals in a game once in the first seven games of the season, that is the thing they can – and really have to – cling to if they expect to get back on track.
“It’s weird sometimes the way things go,” said Danny Briere. “But I can guarantee one thing: If Bryz continues to play the way he has been, we’re in really good shape because at some point we’re going to start scoring goals for him. Pucks are going to start falling in the net.
“Bryz has done an excellent job since the beginning of the year. We need him to be big, but he’s done more than his share so far and that’s good to see.”
His share has amounted to a 2.19 goals against average and a .924 save percentage, numbers that over the course of last season would have ranked him fifth in the NHL in both categories among goalies that started at least half of their team’s games.
For his part, Bryzgalov still isn’t happy – and technically he shouldn’t be because his team is losing too much – but he definitely appears more locked in and focused than he was at any point last season and doesn’t appear to be letting up any time soon.
“I have to continue to do whatever I do, play hard and give the team a chance to win every game” Bryzgalov said. “To be honest, I don’t care what the people outside of [this team] think. I don’t want to make any statements. I hope we find a way to find our game and start winning games, because it’s time.”
And they were close again Tuesday, but there are no Pyrrhic victories, especially not in a 48-game season.
Again, the game came down to special teams.
Down 1-0, the Flyers missed out on a 1:17 two-man advantage, getting only two shots on goal, and then couldn’t generate anything in the remainder of the 5-on-4.
Shortly thereafter, Max Talbot took a tripping penalty and 29 seconds into the Rangers power play, Ryan Callahan scored what would amount to the game-winner.
The Flyers were more disciplined, only going shorthanded twice in the game, but they still allowed the one goal.
Meanwhile the power play was 1-for-6, as Kimmo Timonen scored the loan goal of the game with a shot from the point that beat Henrik Lundqvist.
Otherwise, the Rangers staunch defense – with a top four grouping that might be as good as any in the NHL, coupled with Lundqvist’s stellar play in net blanked the Flyers.
But it seemed as if the Flyers spent too much time looking for lanes to shoot, or passing the puck too much rather than getting pucks to the net.
The team did finish with 27 shots, but Briere took 10 of them, meaning the rest of the lineup didn’t generate enough scoring chances.
Even though the final 20 minutes saw a relentless effort from the Flyers, with all the passing and searching for shots, they got a little too sloppy with the puck, putting far to much pressure on Bryzgalov.
“We really shot ourselves in the foot with turnovers,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “I have to go back and look at scoring chances against, but we gave the puck away too many times in the first period, second period and third period. We have to make good decisions or better decisions with the puck and have better execution.”
If you listen to Briere, that will come soon enough. Until then, the team will lean on Bryzgalov and hope they can provide him with enough to win.
Really, there’s no other way to look at it.
To contact Anthony SanFilippo email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37
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