Superman’s kryptonite is Kal-El; the Philadelphia Flyers’ would be the more destructive matter known as goaltending.
Today’s buyout of Ilya Bryzgalov’s nine-year, $51 million contract closes the book on yet another failed chapter in the Flyers’ seemingly endless drama in search of a stable, franchise goaltender.
In all, Bryzgalov will have given the Flyers 52 wins in one full season and one lockout-shortened season. His statistics don’t measure up to the massive big money deal he signed, although not many could have satisfied the larger than life figures on his landmark 2011 deal.
In retrospect, the quirky Russian was coming off of a great two-year run with the defensive-minded system of Phoenix and coach Dave Tippett and didn’t fit the up-tempo style of his new team in Philadelphia. In the desert, Bryzgalov frequently stood on his head for his Coyotes, and relished the 30+ shots he faced night in and night out. He embraced the amount of frozen rubber thrown his way, and he was good at stopping it.
2009-2011 w/PHX: 137 games, 78 wins, 40 losses, 2.39 GAA, .920 SV, 15 SO’s.
In Philadelphia, the Flyers under coach Peter Laviolette want to be an up-tempo team and push the pace offensively. The aggressive attack leads to more scoring chances and goal support than Bryzgalov ever had in Phoenix, but also led to frequent breakdowns defensively that he also didn’t have in Phoenix. The Flyers’ plan of attack left Bryzgalov to fend for himself on countless odd man rushes over the past two years, and he wasn’t up to the challenge. In Phoenix, the Coyotes’ system limited dramatically the odd man rushes against him, and turned him into almost a coddled goalie.
In Philly, unlike Phoenix, Bryzgalov was told essentially to just not lose games. In Phoenix, he was told to win them. For some reason the shift in the mental dynamic did not mix well with the goaltender, and both parties (perhaps all three) suffered greatly.
Much of this falls at the hands of the Flyers management. For trying to fit a square peg in a round hole so to speak, for not accommodating their biggest price piece from Day one and for turning the man into an island in the room.
While Ilya Bryzgalov’s play wasn’t all that bad (he did have some really, really good stretches of play in Philly; shutout streak), and some of the downfalls do fall squarely on his shoulders (like the incredibly soft goals; the Desharnais duck), the Flyers did nothing to help the cause.
2011-2012 w/PHI: 99 games, 52 wins, 33 losses, 2.64 GAA, .904 SV, 7 SO’s.
It took Laviolette almost two years (the last 9 games of the season with Steve Mason) to tweak his system to allow better defensive zone coverage from supporting forwards. It took him too long to make necessary changes. Who knows, what if Bryz would have excelled under the new and improved system going forward? Steve Mason sure looked like a different guy in it, but we’ll never know.
In the end, it seemed like a marriage that was doomed to start, with flickers of hope sprinkled in-between before it ultimately flamed out, much like many of the men in the Philly crease before him.
For the Philly crease, it’s onto the next one, again.