Now that the additional cameras are gone, things are finally getting back to normal for the Philadelphia Flyers. For goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, who was viewed as one of the 'stars' of the HBO documentary "24/7" because of his quirky personality and on-screen personna, it may be a good time to let his play do the talking.
GM Paul Holmgren was put into a difficult spot by the play of his goaltending during the playoffs last spring. Ed Snider all but issued a guarantee after the debacle that the club's long-standing shortcomings in the crease would be addressed during the offseason. Holmgren did not have the option to stand idly by and hope things would rectify themselves.
With a never-ending thirst to bring a championship back to Philadelphia, the team did what they felt was the best in obtaining the rights to the best pending free agent back stop.
After signing a nine-year, $51.5 million pact with Philadelphia this past summer, great things were expected from the 31-year-old Russian in exorcising the demons that have resided between the Flyers' pipes for some time.
Bryzgalov started off the season by posting three straight wins -- one each against the finalists from June's Stanley Cup Finals, and a shutout in New Jersey in the other. That whitewashing of the Devils in the second game of the year represented something that none of the netminders to man the Philly cage had accomplished during all of last season. Not during the entire preseason, all 82 regular season contests, and 11 postseason games. Not one.
If he had put up Vezina Trophy-worthy numbers with a basically anonymous Phoenix Coyotes club, it stood to reason that the sky was the limit with being plugged into the lineup of a perennial championship contender. Especially a club that almost annually had its Achilles heel exposed each spring, that of the goalie position. Surely Bryzgalov was the man that was going to make this year a very special one for those who have waited so long to finally see Lord Stanley make a return trip to the City of Brotherly Love.
Much like the anticipated growing pains after the forward ranks had undergone such a dramatic overhaul during the summer, the adjustment period for Bryzgalov to the different style of play being employed by his new team, and vice versa, should have been expected.
There were many solid starts, while others left something to be desired.
As many goaltenders have proven through the years, members of the fraternity can sometimes seem an odd breed. Bryzgalov would appear to fit that bill, but was always candid and open when speaking with the media. But that changed to some extent on October 27, when the netminder took the collar after yielding four goals on just 10 shots in a brutal 9-8 home loss to the Winnipeg Jets.
That's when the now infamous "Lost in the woods" statement blew up all around the hockey world. Make no mistake, Bryzgalov was taking full responsibilty for his poor showing, not only for that night, but also for a rough showing over a recent stretch of games. He was not happy about his play, and wearing his heart on his sleeves that night, he conveyed it to the best of his abilities.
With the publicity cultivated by his post-game comments and the continuing firestorm that went along with it, the netminder's struggles continued. It could be why some felt a limitation in the goaltender's ability to speak freely with the media would be an appropriate remedy, and Bryzgalov's new approach of a sometimes abbreviated form of answering questions.
He did come back with a white-hot 11-1-1 mark following that late-October loss to the Jets, and there appeared to be an additional level of comfort with Bryzgalov speaking his mind.
With the Winter Classic rapidly approaching the level of distraction seemed to increase, as his role in the "24/7" hoopla again thrust the goaltender's life views into the spotlight. The goalie's play again became inconsistent in an 0-3-1 skid leading up to the Winter Classic weekend festivities. Bryzgalov threw in another stunner the day prior to the game itself, independently revealing that Sergei Bobrovsky would instead be the starter against the New York Rangers for the big game.
The reigns were once again in place, whether by choice or not.
No longer does he go on in voluminous detail in his responses, and last night's answers were proof positive.
Following a 25-save effort last night in a 5-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild, Bryzgalov was asked if allowing just one goal was a boost to his confidence.
"I don't want to talk about this," was his brief retort.
When the question was posed to him about what the biggest difference between his recent struggles and yielding just one Minnesota goal, Bryzgalov was somewhat awkward.
"I guess it's no bad bounce goals tonight, that's why it's a big difference," he said. "I don't know to be honest. I think the team played unbelievable and they gave up nothing today and...yeah, I don't know."
Some fans began to turn on Bryzgalov and venemously vented their frustrations via social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook, reasoning that despite the gargantuan, nearly $4 million difference in their respective salaries, Bobrovsky -- who makes $1.75 million as compared to Bryzgalov's nearly $5.67 million -- should be the club's number one goaltender.
Comparing the numbers of the two: Bryzgalov 17-10-3 record, 3.00 GAA, .893 save percentage; Bobrovsky 10-3-1 record, 2.42 GAA, .921 save percentage
In addition to Bobrovsky's numbers being better almost across the board, the injury that has ended the season, and quite possibly the career, of Chris Pronger has left the club with a giant hole on the blue line -- a void that can be measured approximately 6' 6", and weighs in the vicinity of 220 pounds.
There are some who would like to see Bryzgalov moved and for Bobrovsky to take over in the starting role he held for much of his rookie season. Their rationale is the difference in salary saved in net could be spent on acquiring a legitimate number one defenseman.
While the necessity for upgrading the defense is realistically one that will need to be addressed at some point prior to the trade deadline, dealing the player brought in to be the franchise goaltender after playing just slightly over half the schedule would seem curious. It would almost seem a panic move when one is not necessary, as the team sits just four points off the pace for the overall League lead.
Bryzgalov wants to win, and he has stated he wants to be one of the prominant reasons why the Stanley Cup comes back to Philadelphia.
At times during the year, he has shown the propensity of being that dominating netminder the Flyers have lacked for ages, and that is why Bryzgalov was brought here from the Arizona desert.
While the antics are fun and it has tremendous entertainment value for scores of NHL fans via HBO and various NHL fan sites across the world wide web, when it all comes down to it, that is merely window dressing for what matters the most, and that is Bryzgalov's performance on the ice.
Respecting his relative silence and with close to half of the campaign still remaining, there is no better way for the embattled netminder to prove his ultimate value to the Flyers than to allow his play to do all of his talking for him.