When the Flyers signed Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year, $51 million contract in June of 2011, the fans were relieved. They had thought the elite goaltender that the city of Philadelphia had longed for was finally here. Unfortunately, in the first year of this nine-year deal, things didn't go as planned.
The veteran goaltender was leaving a smaller hockey market in Phoenix and being thrown into one of the biggest hockey markets in the NHL. Philadelphia is specifically well-known for being one of the toughest markets for goalies to play in (best said by Bryzgalov himself).
It is safe to say that the play of Ilya Bryzgalov was a huge disappointment to not only the fans, but the Flyers management. These were not the kind of stats the Flyers were looking for out of their elite goalie:
His play in overtime games throughout the season was very poor. His save percentage (.909%) was lower than it had been in previous years with both Phoenix and Anaheim. His goals against average (2.48) is exactly the same as it was in the 2010-11 season with the Coyotes, but still not impressive. Although Bryz was not the main issue in the second round playoff exit, a .887 save percentage and a 3.46 goals allowed average is not impressive at all.
As the 2012-13 season is approaching, many Flyers fans are quite optimistic about how Bryzgalov will perform this season, as they should be. In my opinion, it was a very rough transition period for Bryz, but that is behind him. I believe there is much to look forward to from Ilya.
If you look at how Bryzgalov played towards the end of the season, that should make you feel pretty good:
- Ilya Bryzgalov in March: 10-2-1, 1.43 GAA, .947 save percentage
- NHL's First Star for the month of March
- Recorded four shutouts
- Set a franchise record 249:43 shutout streak
If Bryzgalov can play like that for a whole season, the Flyers will be in VERY good shape. The most important part of that sentence is " if " ...
Many people will immediately blame the Flyers defense for Bryzgalov's poor play. While the defense was not at its strongest last season, neither was the man between the pipes.
Questions surround the Flyers defense this off-season. After the losses of Chris Pronger (post-concussion syndrome), Andrej Meszaros (torn right achilles tendon), Matt Carle (signed with Tampa Bay), and Andreas Lilja (hip surgery), people fear that the Flyers will have the same defensive struggles as last season. While I think Holmgren will make it work, whether he fills the gaps with young guys, or brings someone in, that is not the point.
The point is, that whether Ilya Bryzgalov will rebound after last seasons poor performace is up to him. Although the defense is expected to make his job easier, they can't save basic shots that a goalie of his caliber should be able to stop.
By no means am I saying that the defensive efforts will have no effect on Bryzgalov's performance. Ultimately, what is comes down to though, is Bryzgalov being able to "find the peace in his soul to play in this city".
If Bryz can return to Phoenix form and is able to be solid consistently between the pipes, the Flyers are going to be in phenomenal shape. It is up to him, alone, to do that though. It is not as much about the defense that is in front of him as people think.
In my opinion, Bryzgalov's play will have a bigger impact on how the defense looks than vice versa. If he is playing well and winning games, it will make the defense look great. I, along with most of the Flyers fans, expect Ilya Bryzgalov to bounce back and look forward to watching him have a great season.
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