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The Mayor of Sports Town



            On June 23rd, 2011 the Philadelphia Flyers goalie savior was signed.  Uh…not so fast!  How can the ‘savior’ not even start in the Winter Classic, a game which is the most anticipated regular season game in all of sports?  How can Sergei Bobrovsky supplant a goalie that the Flyers signed to a 9 year $51 million contract?

It all started very well for Bryz (Bryzgalov).  Regular season Game 1 was a 2-1 road victory at the Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins where he made 22 saves.  Game 2 was a 3-0 shutout road win against the New Jersey Devils.  The previous season, the goalie tandem of Sergei Bobrovsky and Brian Boucher did not record a single shutout.  It only took Bryz two games to do what no Flyers goalie could do the entire season last year.

After that, it went downhill fast.  Bryz was letting the routine wrist shot get by him.  He was out of position on a lot of his goals and his confidence deteriorated more and more after each game.   During the filming of the HBO Special “24/7 Road to the NHL Winter Classic” you saw some things that were concerning.  First, it was his strange remarks about ‘Tigers’ and the ‘Universe’.  Then, it was watching his team alienate him at a player’s breakfast.  Although his personality is ‘out there’ (aren’t all goalies ‘out there’ when wanting to stop 100 mph slap shots…), it was more concerning how his teammates reacted to his lunacy and appeared to lose confidence.

The NHL Winter Classic was ‘supposed’ to be Bryz’s moment.  But instead, this quote was littering the headlines, “I have great news and even better news. Okay, great news is I’m not playing, and better news is we have a chance to win the game….(I’ll) make sure I don’t forget my thermos with some nice tea and enjoy the bench.”  Could this become the worst bust in Flyers history?

Things didn’t get much better after the Winter Classic.  After a 6-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on home ice, he quirked, “”I know I was frustrated in my game today and I know I have to be better and I will continue to work on this, but….I will try to find peace in my soul to play in this city.”  I think 51 million dollars would grant me peace to play anywhere.  Things appeared to hit rock bottom.  Having a goalie with no confidence who cannot play in arguably one of the best hockey towns in the world is not something that gives you high hopes for a playoff run.

     I understand that playing in the city, as quoted by many, can be a lot of pressure. But Philadelphia fans don’t necessarily applaud success as much as they applaud effort.  And his effort through February was lackluster at best.   Finally!  We saw something.  Something!

There was a game out west on Saturday February 25th which seems to turned everything around.  Bryz let up two early, certainly savable goals, to an average Calgary Flames team.  After that moment, he appeared to gain life with each save.  He did let up two goals more goals but the Flyers fought back for Bryz to tie the game.  Then, it was the shootout.  Shootouts have been the Flyers achilles heal all year long.  If they would have won half of their shoot out losses, we’d be talking about home ice advantage in the first round of playoffs.   When Calgary scored on its third shootout attempt (they started by shooting first), we all thought it was over.  But Claude Giroux saved them by extending the shootout with another one of his pretty shootout goals.  Bryz went on to save two more before Matt Read, the sensational undrafted rookie, iced the game.

People will say it was just a shootout win, but if you looked at the celebration by Bryz after the Flyers picked up the extra point, you can visibly see the weight that was lifted off his back.  He was practically floating with a huge smile while receiving several hugs from teammates.  It wasn’t the point they gained in the standing that they were all celebrating.

March seemed like Bryz hit his stride and was earning every single million dollar with each confident save.  He was saving the routine wrist shots and seemed to be in position for every one timer, breakaway, deflection, you name it, he saved it.  From March 4th through March 13th, Bryz allowed only 2 goals over 5 games with 4 shutouts (remember I said that the Flyers goalies didn’t even have one all of last year?).  Bryz recorded the longest shut out streak in Flyers history during that span.  He was named the NHL’s First Star of the Month for March and was well deserved.  He was the best goalie, if not the best player overall, during the month of March.

Again, with Philadelphia sports, there is an always a “uh oh, wait a minute… it was too good to be true moment”.  On March 26th, in the pregame warm up against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Bryz chipped a bone in his foot.  He finished the game with an average performance by letting up 4 goals.  The team announced the injury in the post game press conference and didn’t seem too concerned.  The next day, GM Paul Holmgren announced the injury and listed him as day to day.

Bryz’s next start wouldn’t come until 3 games later against the hated New York Rangers, a team we haven’t beat all year.  Bryz let up 4 goals in the first period, most of which were defensive breakdowns.  Defensive breakdowns do happen in hockey, but it cannot happen in playoff hockey.  The teams that advance have that goalie to ‘bail’ them out when mistakes do happen.

Bryz’s next game against the Buffalo Sabres was much better.  The Flyers salvaged a 2-1 win where Bryz was tested often.  He was able to keep the team in the game until they scored the final go ahead goal in the third period.  This was against a Sabres team fighting for their playoff lives.

All this, leads to one question.  Which Bryz will show up the playoffs?  Will it be the Bryz that looked like a goalie with the confidence of teenage school boy asking a girl for a first date or will he be the NHL’s First Star of the Month goalie bailing his team out of every jam?    We can’t use last year as a reference when he was in Phoenix.  Last year he let up 17 goals in 4 games as his Coyotes were swept by the Detroit Red Wings.  Can we reference 2006 when he replaced John-Sebastian Giguere for the Mighty Ducks?  In 11 playoff games he only let up 16 goals with 3 shutouts and a 1.46 GAA.

As you can see we can not use history as a lesson.  We cannot reference this year nor previous years to get any kind of understanding of how he will play.  He can be good.  He can be bad.  Will he be the Bryz who lets up 4 goals on 10 shots  or will he be the Bryz that stopped 38 out of 40 shots against the Penguins to give the Flyers a chance to win in overtime?  Which the Flyers did win!

Only time will tell how the Flyers playoff fate will end up.  And the Flyers playoff fate rests on Bryz’s shoulders.  I just hope he can find the peace in his soul to play in the playoffs and give us 51 million reasons to celebrate a Stanley Cup this year!!

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