April 29, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov (30) takes a drink against the New Jersey Devils during the third period of game one of the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinals at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-US PRESSWIRE
Ilya Bryzgalov was the man Ed Snider just had to have. Unfortunately, he's playing worse than either of his predecessors and has a very clear hole in his game.
"So either one of the goalies we have has to step up in training camp, or we have to make improvements to make sure it happens. But we are NEVER going to go through the goalie issues we’ve gone through in the last couple of years again."
Those were the words uttered by Flyers owner Ed Snider after the Flyers were eliminated in four games by the Boston Bruins, a series that saw Peter Laviolette pull his goalie in each of the first three games.
After using three different starting goalies in the previous round - despite Brian Boucher outplaying and putting up better numbers than Ryan Miller - many were quick to blame goaltending. While a closer inspection would show that goaltending was but one equal part of a total team failure, from Peter Laviolette to Danny Briere to Mike Richards to Andrej Meszaros to Jeff Carter and more, the owner had spoken.
Never again would the Flyers tolerate a goaltending carousel. Never again would the Flyers tolerate a failure in net during the playoffs.
This, despite goaltending never being the reason the Flyers failed to win a Cup in the last 37 years - the closest anyone can come to saying so is Michael Leighton in 2010, which ignores his three shutouts in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Jeff Carter - Mike Richards - Simon Gagne line accounting for only three non-empty net goals in six games against Chicago and Chris Pronger being on the ice for five Blackhawks goals and in the box for their sixth during the pivotal Game 5.
Ed Snider said never again, so it was decided.
In comes Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year, $51 million contract that makes him the second-highest paid player in the NHL. He is making $10 million this year, behind only Brad Richards and his $12 million salary.
In the playoffs, Bryzgalov currently has a 3.70 goals against average and a 0.873 save percentage.
Last year, the Flyers goalie carousel combined managed to stop 89.4 percent of shots while sporting a 3.19 goals against average.
The difference is that the Flyers are 5-2 this year whereas they were 4-7 last year. Make no mistake: Ilya Bryzgalov, the man Ed Snider had to have, the goalie many Flyers fans demanded and the hole media from across the sport claimed was necessary to fill is doing more to harm his team's Stanley Cup chances than benefit.
Take yesterday's game for example. The Flyers won, but it certainly wasn't because of Ilya Bryzgalov. The Devils first goal of the game came off a bad turnover by Matt Read, but Bryzgalov moves his stick to try and block the pass from behind the net. There are three Flyers skaters attempting to do the same.
This leaves a gaping hole for Zach Parise to shoot at:
By the time Elias lets the puck go, Bryzgalov has attempted to bring his stick back to cover his five hole, but it's not set and he's not able to get into the butterfly in time. One-nothing, Devils.
On the Devils second goal, Bryzgalov goes behind the net to stop the dump-in. He is unable to halt the puck, but he's also unable to get back into his net and set in his position before the puck is already halfway to the player streaking down the slot.
Certainly, there's more blame to go around on this play than just Bryzgalov, as there is with the first goal, but he is once again beaten through the five hole on a play he was not set for.
Whether he was slow to get back into his net or slow to get into position, he was not ready for the shot on a routine dump in. He was once again beaten between the pads, where his stick should have been.
On the Devils third goal, Bryzgalov again lets the puck go through his five hole:
Sykora pump-fakes a shot, which Bryzgalov does not bite on, but he still gets beaten through the five hole. His stick appeared to initially be in position, so he either went to bat the puck away and missed, moved it at the last second, or never had it in position to begin with.
Add it to the list of other five-hole goals Bryzgalov has given up this playoff season, and you begin to sense a pattern. This is a real problem currently befalling the Flyers. It goes beyond Bryzgalov's salary, his cap hit, his contract length, his funny quotes, his media availability, and especially his confidence.
Ilya Bryzgalov has a clear hole in his game that opponents are spotting. Claude Giroux said you can tell when Bryzgalov is going to have a good game in warm ups and I'm guessing it is based upon the number of pucks that go between his legs during the pre-game skate.
Bryzgalov has the second worst save percentage of any goalie with at least two games played this year. He has a worse save percentage than both Sergei Bobrovsky and Brian Boucher had last year, which was apparently so horrible that it resulted in the owner throwing both of them under the bus.
Bluntly, the second-highest paid player in hockey is at best a passenger in the playoffs and at worst a detriment to his team.