Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Nine More Years

If you're a Philadelphia Flyers fan, this might be one of the more disappointing days in recent years. Sure, there was that loss to Chicago in the Stanley Cup Final a few years ago, but today had to be a little more difficult to handle. There was so much to be hopeful for after the Flyers dismantled the Penguins in stunning fashion, only to have the New Jersey Devils do the same to Philadelphia in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Honestly, the only thing that was consistent between the two series was the goaltending, and that's not a compliment by any means in terms of how poorly Ilya Bryzgalov played in eleven games this postseason.

Bryzgalov was horrid this postseason despite his team winning one series. He allowed 37 goals on 326 shots, and was statistically the worst goalie to arrive in the second round of the playoffs. Normally when a team is looking for a boost in the playoffs, they get it from their goaltender in the form of a big game. We've all heard the expression about goaltenders "stealing a game", and how big of an effect that can have on a series. The Flyers didn't get that once from Bryzgalov in this series, nor did they see one in these playoffs.
"I have zero confidence in myself right now. I'm terrible. I want to apologize to the fans and my teammates. I don't know what's going on. I have no answer for you guys. I thought the last game in Montreal was the worst, but today was worse.

"I'm lost in the woods right now."
Those famous words were uttered on October 27, 2011 when Bryzgalov and the Flyers suffered a 9-8 defeat at the hands of the Winnipeg Jets in Philadelphia. Bryzgalov and Sergei Bobrovsky were virtually invisible all night when it came to stopping the puck, and couldn't hold the fort for the team despite the offence putting eight past the Winnipeg goaltending duo.

While one game is not an accurate sample size, the Flyers signed Bryzgalov to be the difference in net. There had been many before him who had tried and been discarded by the Flyers after failing, but everyone was told that Bryzgalov was "the man". He would be the goaltender to carry the Flyers to the promised land despite never having won a playoff series in his NHL career, despite having a career 12-13 record in the playoffs, and despite having seen his save percentage plummet and his goals-against average rise above 3.00 in every year he made the playoffs. This was the guy who was going to turn the tides for the Flyers after having imploded against the Detroit Red Wings in the playoffs one year earlier.

It was clear that the Flyers beat the Penguins in spite of Bryzgalov in the first round, so there was still hope he could prove himself in the second round against another division rival in the Devils. What we found out is that the numbers didn't lie.
"I don't know, right now I'm very into the universe, you know? Like how it was created, like what is it? You know? Solar system is so humongous big, right, but if you see that like our solar system and like our galaxy and like on the side, it was so small, you can't even see it. Our galaxy is huge, but if you see the big picture, our galaxy is like small tiny. Like dot in the universe.

"And you think, like, we have some problems here on the Earth that we worry about? Compared to like... nothing. Just, be happy. Don't worry, be happy right now."
More soundbyte gold from the philosopher Bryzgalov on the universe. When he dropped this nugget of wisdom on the world through the HBO 24/7 special, there were a lot of raised eyebrows when it came to where Bryzgalov's head was. We all know that goalies are a special breed in terms of their mental toughness and sheer physical ability, but waxing about how we fit into the universe was unfathomable to many who heard this chatter. The Flyers, undoubtedly shaking their heads, told him to cool his media persona, and he went out and played out of his mind: Bryzgalov recorded three straight shutouts to open March, and and appeared to have turned the corner on a rather unimpressive season.

However, if you needed any sort of philosophical musings from the netminder, it might be on the topics of why his GAA becomes "so humongous big" and why his save percentage becomes "like small tiny" when the playoffs start. For the third straight postseason, he posted a losing record in the playoffs, a goals-against average over 3.40, and a save percentage below .910. In 14 of 22 playoff games, Bryzgalov's save percentage has been below .900. This year's save percentage didn't even come close to .900. Say what you want about how good the Flyers offence has been, it could be outstanding if they had any semblance of goaltending behind them. Bryzgalov has yet to provide that while wearing Flyers' orange.

But remember those famous last words: "Just, be happy. Don't worry, be happy right now." Right. Sure thing, Bryz.

Will Flyers fans be willing to take nine more years of horrendous playoff performances from Ilya Bryzgalov? If the playoffs are the true test of a player's character, $50 million dollars over the next decade is a lot to pay a clown to stand in the net. His playoff stats are evidence of that.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

1 comment:

Peter Santellan said...

To think the Coyotes were going to finish in the bottom third of the Western Conference when they essentially let Bryzgalov go and sign Mike Smith to be their starter. This goes to show two things: the Coyotes' system can make a star goalie out of most players and Bryzgalov still hasn't figured out how to play in a pressure cooker like Philadelphia on a consistent basis.