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Flyers look for better season from Bryzgalov

Monday, 08.13.2012 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

Ilya Bryzgalov's first season with the Philadelphia Flyers could best be described as interesting.

The mercurial goalie had extreme highs and lows, on and off the ice, and it ended with the Flyers losing in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Ilya Bryzgalov
Ilya Bryzgalov
Goalie - PHI
RECORD: 33-16-7
GAA: 2.48 | SVP: 0.909
"Did he play as good as I expected? I would say no," Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said of Bryzgalov's first season in Philadelphia.

As Bryzgalov enters his second year with the team, however, the belief is he'll be more comfortable and return to being the player who was a Vezina Trophy finalist for the Phoenix Coyotes in 2010.

Bryzgalov was 10th in the League last season with 33 wins, but had a 2.48 goals-against average that was 21st and a .909 save percentage that ranked 33rd. Those numbers went further in the wrong direction in the playoffs.

He was the Player of the Month in March, going 10-2-1 with a 1.43 goals-against average, .947 save percentage and four shutouts. He tied the club record with three straight shutouts from March 8-13, and set the franchise mark for longest shutout streak with a run of 249:43.

Compare that to a stretch in October in which he allowed 18 goals in four games, including four goals on 10 shots in a game against the Winnipeg Jets that led Bryzgalov to say he had "zero confidence" in himself and add, "I am lost in the woods right now."

He became the star of the HBO "24/7" show leading into the 2012 Winter Classic for his dissertations on the size of the universe, among other topics. But the day before the game, he told reporters, "I have great news and even better news. OK, great news is I'm not playing [in the Classic], and better news is we have a chance to win the game."

He said he would be sitting on the bench sipping hot tea, and hours later posted a picture of a mug to his Twitter account.

Teammates reportedly told Bryzgalov to tone down his act, which he did, but Bryzgalov never seemed comfortable muting his oversized personality. The key for Bryzgalov will be finding a middle ground that allows him to be himself on and off the ice.

"His job is to stop pucks and help us win games. It's not Comedy Central. There's probably a middle-of-the-road scenario there. He's a funny guy to talk to, there's no question about that. He's got some interesting concepts of life and how to walk down the road of life."
-- Flyers GM Paul Holmgren on goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov

"His job is to stop pucks and help us win games," Holmgren said. "It's not Comedy Central. There's probably a middle-of-the-road scenario there. He's a funny guy to talk to, there's no question about that. He's got some interesting concepts of life and how to walk down the road of life."

Finding that middle ground, however, is the key. It could come simply from having a year of experience in Philadelphia. Teammate Scott Hartnell compared Bryzgalov's first-season struggles to his first year in Philadelphia. Both players arrived from non-traditional hockey markets with big contracts and expectations to match.

"Once you get to know the guys and you feel more comfortable in your house, in your life, all that kind of stuff, definitely you get more confidence as the year goes on," Hartnell said. "Next year he'll come back from Russia in the summer and his house is all set up -- he'll be ready to play."

Holmgren agreed, saying he's positive Bryzgalov will be far better in his second season with the Flyers.

"I think Ilya has learned some things from one year in Philadelphia," Holmgren said. "He's learned a lot of things and we'll see a different person next year. I think we'll certainly see a different goaltender."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter at: @NHLAdamK

I didn't think it would actually work, but it ended up working, so I'm thanking my lucky stars tonight.

— Columbus forward Nick Foligno on scoring the overtime goal after telling the Blue Jackets in the locker room that he would win the game