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Different net approaches working for Flyers, Coyotes

by Mike G. Morreale /
PHILADELPHIA -- If you think the road to success is the same for every NHL team, better think again.
Take, for instance, the Phoenix Coyotes and the Philadelphia Flyers, who meet for the first and only time this season at Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday. The Flyers (39-15-5, 83 points) stand atop the Eastern Conference behind the two-headed monster in goal that is veteran Brian Boucher and rookie Sergei Bobrovsky.
During February, Boucher (15-6-2, 2.26 goals-against average, .922 save percentage) has started four of nine games. Bobrovsky (23-9-3, 2.44 GAA, .919 save percentage) has started five.
The Coyotes (32-19-9, 73 points) are currently third in the West due in large part to the play of one masked man, Ilya Bryzgalov. The Russian-born netminder will make a career-high 19th straight start for the Coyotes on Tuesday. He'll go head-to-head against Bobrovsky, his fellow countryman, for the first time in his career.
The thing is, despite the contrasting styles in choosing a starting goalie from game to game, the Flyers and Coyotes have persevered this season. There's no reason to believe either coach will make any drastic changes down the stretch.
"I don't think it's unusual," Boucher said. "Some teams pay a starting goalie a lot of money and they certainly don't want to see them splitting time when you've allocated that much money to a starting goalie. But in our situation, that's not the case. It's been good for me because I've been able to stay sharp and be ready. I don't know what Bob's take is on it, but it's only good. You play 20-30 in a row, as a starter, and you can get burned out pretty quick, so it's a good situation where we're both able to stay sharp and both be ready to play. We've both been able to win, so it's been good for the team."
Flyers goalie coach Jeff Reese wasn't prepared to give away any secrets with regard to how his team chooses its goaltender from game to game.
Over his past 11 starts, Bobrovsky is 8-3-0 with a 2.14 GAA and a .927 save percentage. In Boucher's last 11 games (10 starts), he is 8-2-0 mark with a 2.15 GAA and a .928 save percentage.
So what is the secret? Does it come down to flipping a coin?
"We have a crystal ball," Reese said. "Really, it all kind of comes down (coach Peter Laviolette's) gut. He has the final say and he's the head coach and I think he does a great job with it. His gut is usually right … that's how we do it.
"I do think it's important to have two goalies though. I think it's important to keep both of them sharp. It's hard being out 2-3 weeks and then going in to play. They stay sharp not only for games, but in practice. They both are contributing and both feel like they're a big part of the hockey club."
Laviolette feels the competition in net between Boucher and Bobrovsky has benefitted each player.
"I hear all the time, in football, where they want to name somebody the No. 1, but I don't really believe in that," he said. "We have a really good team and a lot of good players in here and the players who are playing well usually find themselves playing a little more. That way, they can continue to push each other."
Bryzgalov is held to a different standard within the Phoenix locker room.
"Bryz is the backbone," Coyotes leading goal-scorer Scottie Upshall said. "If he's our best player we win games, and if he's not, we have trouble winning. So having him playing his best this time of year is great."
While Phoenix coach Dave Tippett wasn't willing to confirm backup goalie Jason LaBarbera as Wednesday's starter in Tampa Bay, he did admit the coaching staff is monitoring Bryzgalov's every move in an effort to keep him fresh.

"Bryz is the backbone. If he's our best player we win games, and if he's not, we have trouble winning. So having him playing his best this time of year is great." -- Scottie Upshall

"We monitor him and he also had that 4-5 day break for the All-Star Game," Tippett said. "So the actual minutes and games played is probably behind what he had at this time last year. But we monitor him every day. He's feeling great. He feels he has a lot of energy and in games, he's proven himself very well."
Bryzgalov has won seven straight games, tying a career-high set last season (March 4-20). During his seven-game streak, Bryzgalov has stopped 190 of 201 shots while moving into sixth place in the League with 26 wins. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Bryzgalov trails only Cam Ward (19 straight starts) for the longest active streak in the League.
He posted back-to-back shutouts for the first time in his career against Minnesota on Feb. 5 and Colorado two days later -- marking the first time the Coyotes had consecutive shutouts since Boucher set the modern-day NHL record with five straight in the 2003-04 season.
"He's been phenomenal and Jason (LaBarbera) has been incredible, too, but the other night against Washington, Bryz played as good a game as I've ever seen him play," Phoenix captain Shane Doan said. "He stayed so mentally focused and was ready for the game. It was phenomenal and he had two shutouts right before that. The stretch he's on right now, you feel a lot of confidence going into every game."
Flyers defenseman Andrej Meszaros feels having both goalies in game shape only will benefit his team down the stretch.
"I think both goalies have to play because you never know, somebody might get hurt at the end of the year," Meszaros told "You see more than a few times where the one goalie was playing the whole season and other guy steps in and does well in the playoffs. It might not happen that often, but the important thing is both are playing well and that's a good thing."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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