The 2010-11 season is already full of intriguing story lines, but at the quarter mark of the campaign, standout performances by goaltenders certainly deserve top billing. This week, NHL.com focuses on some of those goalies in the spotlight, from the amazing first impression of Philadelphia's Sergei Bobrovsky and Washington's Michal Neuvirth to the redemptions of Montreal's Carey Price and Boston's Tim Thomas and the continued stellar play of Detroit's Jimmy Howard.
PHILADELPHIA -- How does goalie Sergei Bobrovsky of the Philadelphia Flyers go from anonymity to one of the most talked-about free-agent acquisitions in the NHL this season?
Never mind he'll take a five-game winning streak into Saturday's game against the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum, but how about the fact he -- finally -- was added to EA Sports' NHL '11 with an impressive 81 rating Tuesday.
With every save, the fans at Wells Fargo Center chant "Bob" while the scoreboard urges them on even more. Heck, his personalized mask even has the inscription "Bobs" across the bottom. His initial season in North America certainly is becoming quite the occasion.
"Of course I do. I hear it," he said. "At first it’s really great, but they are not going to like you if don't play well and win."
The way the 22-year-old goalie is playing, there's not much worry about fans turning on him. Bobrovsky is turning into a rock star right before our very eyes.
Still, it hasn't come without hard work on and off the ice, something that certainly doesn't go unnoticed by teammates and coaches.
"It's got to be tough to come into a situation where you have only three or four people speaking your language within a competitive environment like this," Flyers captain Mike Richards told NHL.com. "It would be tough for me to just to communicate with people and explain things. As a goalie, maybe it's easier just having to worry about stopping the puck. But just day-to-day life, he's getting a lot better and he understands things -- he just doesn't know how to say a lot of things.
"We're working with him. We understand he doesn't speak a whole lot of English so it's going to take some patience on our part to communicate with him. But he's a great kid and we love having him around here."
Only three other times in franchise history has a Flyers rookie goalie compiled five straight victories. Pelle Lindbergh holds the record with seven (Dec. 22, 1982 to Jan. 4, 1983), while Roman Cechmanek (Feb. 9-19, 2001) and Antero Niittymaki (Dec. 22-29, 2005) each were in net for five straight.
Bobrovsky, signed as a free agent this past May, was so impressive during training camp that coach Peter Laviolette started him opening night in Pittsburgh, as the Penguins celebrated the opening of Consol Energy Center. He was the youngest goalie in Flyers history to start a season opener at 22 years, 17 days, but he played like a veteran that night, stopping 29 of 31 shots to steal the show in a 3-2 Flyers victory.
In nine games this season, he's 7-2-0 with a 2.23 goals-against average and .921 save percentage.
"I didn't know who he was in camp, but he spent the last two years in KHL (with Metallurg Novokuznetsk), so it wasn't like he was coming into the League as a kid only seeing junior hockey players shoot," Flyers defenseman Sean O'Donnell said. "He's played against men in the KHL. He's played against (Alexei) Yashin and (Jaromir) Jagr. He's a hard worker and willing to do whatever it takes to succeed. I'm always a little surprised when someone comes in out of nowhere, but look at the time he's put in the last couple of years and where he's come from … it's not like he's an unknown coming from junior and standing on his head. He's a 22-year-old young man who put his time in and has seen good results."
Interestingly, Rangers forward Artem Anisimov was a teammate of Bobrovsky's on the 2006 World Under-18 Championship team that placed fifth. Bobrovsky was the backup to Washington Capitals goalie Semyon Varlamov on that team.
"He's a great goalie," Anisimov said of Bobrovsky. "He's so patient in the net and not nervous at all."
Bobrovsky was given an opportunity when it was learned Michael Leighton needed back surgery in early October. With the way Bobrovsky has held the fort in Leighton's absence, it would surprise no one if he remained with the club when Leighton is cleared to return.
"Since he's been here, Sergei has worked hard," Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren said. "Both off the ice and on the ice he's working to improve his communication with his teammates. He's obviously taken a liking to what (goalie coach) Jeff Reese is trying to get him to do. I'm surprised, but obviously we're all quite pleased with how he's played."
Despite his struggles with the English language -- Bobrovsky requires an interpreter for every post-game interview -- Laviolette admitted communication hasn't been an issue all season.
"He understands what we're saying," Laviolette said. "He and Jeff (Reese) have a good relationship and they communicate, so there doesn't seem to be an issue. I think we get help when we're dealing with the media and his translation of things, but as far as on-ice communication goes, it's trying to keep it simple with the defense. There's still times where it's not perfect, but it hasn't been much of an issue, either."
While Bobrovsky's lateral movement has been outstanding, his ability to play the puck is one facet of his game that might need improving.
"It would certainly help the D-men take fewer hits," Flyers forward Ville Leino said. "Playing the puck is probably one area he needs to improve, but otherwise, he's been great. His English is getting a little better and he's getting more confident in speaking."
Still, Richards feels "Bob" has the perfect personality for playing the position.
"I guess I am surprised in the fact I just never knew him before," Richards said. "But his composure … there's never been a situation where you look at him and feel like he's in shock or astonishment of what's going on around him. He's handled everything extremely well, works hard in practice, works hard in the gym. He's got that laid-back personality where it seems like nothing fazes him. I think, as a goalie, that's a great personality to have."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale