There are two ways you can look at the Flyers goaltending situation.
The pessimistic view would be to examine Ilya Bryzgalov’s numbers from the 2012-13 season, see that he ranked 36th in goals against average (2.79), 43rd in save percentage (.900), 47th in even strength save percentage (.907) and 26th in save percentage while shorthanded (.866) and determine that it’s a mess.
The optimistic view is to see that the Bryzgalov was actually really good until he was forced into duty every night and wore down. It’s to take stock in the fact that he actually posted those numbers behind a patchwork defense for much of the season. And that despite all the negative press he received, he still finished with a winning record.
Couple that with the addition of Steve Mason via trade April 3rd, and his impressive numbers, albeit over a very small sample of seven games (4-2-0, 1.90, .944), and the Flyers appear to finally have a worthy tandem in place.
I tend to lean toward the latter.
Could Bryzgalov have been better this season? Yes. But considering all the factors outside of his control, in reality, any expectation of betterment on his part could only fairly be slight. There really were only a few games that he played this season where you looked at his performance and thought it was not up to snuff.
Yes, it would be nice if he made more stops on breakaways. Yes, it would be ideal if he would come up with more big saves on high percentage chances by the opposition.
That is the common gripe by sensible detractors (as opposed to the non-sensible sort who just dislike him because they’re predisposed to hating all Flyers goalies) and it is a fair one.
And if that’s something you want to hang on Bryzgalov, it is probably deserved.
But for the love of Pete, the guy was the team’s best player for at least half the season, if not more. To condemn him is over-reactive.
Put a healthy and stable defense in front of him for a full season, and I’m betting on a different outcome.
There was also a ton of pressure on him as the season progressed, again because of situational factors that were out of his hands.
He had no reliable backup to give him a day off. He had to start 22 games in a row as the team tried to recover and make the playoffs, and although he needed a break, he plowed through, fighting his fatigue to try and perform at his highest level.
Sometimes, he did. Others, he didn’t. But it wasn’t for a lack of caring, or effort, or desire.
Bryzgalov is actually a very competitive goaltender who wants to win. Just watch his reactions on the ice at the end of close wins. It means a lot to him. He doesn’t take hard losses well either. Some of his most memorable post-game comments have come after particularly difficult defeats.
That’s the sign of a competitor.
And it’s the reason I think it’s likely that he’s back next season and is not a compliance casualty.
That, and Mason, who still has something to prove, is a guy who wants to be a No. 1 goalie again and who has renewed confidence in a new situation.
Bryzgalov may need to be pushed to be better. He hasn’t really had that in his two years in Philadelphia. Sergei Bobrovsky was a clear backup in Bryzgalov’s first season – primarily because of the shiny, new, nine-year, $51 million contract Bryzgalov was toting.
Then, this season, it was evident in both cases of Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher that they were veterans just happy to still have NHL contracts and neither had any plans of unseating the incumbent Bryzgalov.
But now there’s Mason, who repeatedly said during his one month with the team that his goal is to be a No. 1 goalie again. Like Bryzgalov, he is ultra-competitive.
Which is why I feel Bryzgalov should be back with the Flyers and shouldn't be part of the amnesty conversation this summer.
Over the course of an 82-game season, two goalies who care, who compete and who want to be the go-to guy can push each other to play at the top of their game.
Or, it could go sour, and lead to disharmony, and more aggravation.
But, like I said before, I’m an optimist. And I think the reason for that optimism is already in place – maybe you just need to look in the right places to see it.
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37