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Flyers, Caps getting early returns from new goalies

by Adam Kimelman /

Following last spring's playoff loss to the Boston Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers Chairman Ed Snider gave voice to a common refrain from the team's large, vocal fan base.

"We are never going to go through the goalie issues we've gone through in the last couple of years again," he told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "If we trade or go for a goalie (through free agency), we'll make it work. We can make anything work, even with the cap."

Following his team's second-round playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee looked at his goaltenders -- 23-year-old Michal Neuvirth and 22-year-old Braden Holtby -- and believed he was set for years to come. The position was so strong, he traded away 23-year-old Semyon Varlamov, the starter the previous two postseasons.

However, McPhee wasn't about to pass on a gift when it landed right in his lap.

And that's how the two best goaltenders on the free-agent market -- Ilya Bryzgalov and Tomas Vokoun -- landed in Philadelphia and Washington, respectively, and will be in goal when the teams meet Thursday in Philadelphia (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US).

Tomas Vokoun
Goalie - WSH
RECORD: 4-0-0
GAA: 1.94 | SVP: 0.935
Bryzgalov was targeted almost from Day 1 by the Flyers, who had grown frustrated by a revolving door at the position, capped by last spring's disappointing three-headed rotation of Sergei Bobrovsky, Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton.

There was little chance Bryzgalov would be returning to Phoenix after guiding the Coyotes to back-to-back playoff berths, so the Flyers jumped in early.

"We had gone through the ranking process of the goalies that looked like they might be available at that point in time," Flyers GM Paul Holmgren told "Obviously, Ilya is a guy we targeted. We were able to make the trade with Phoenix to acquire his rights and then go through the process of getting him signed."

The Flyers sent a minor-leaguer and a pair of draft picks to the Coyotes for Bryzgalov's rights, and then signed him to a nine-year, $51.5 million contract. That started a chain reaction of moves that saw Philadelphia trade All-Star centers Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, and sign 39-year-old future Hall of Famer Jaromir Jagr to a new-look roster.

So far, that new look has turned out just fine. The Flyers enter Thursday's game 4-0-1, and Bryzgalov has posted three wins, a 1.99 goals-against average, .927 save percentage and a shutout -- the Flyers' first regular-season blanking since April 2010.

Bryzgalov is quick to credit the team in front of him for his early success. He's faced 109 shots in four games, and more than 30 shots in a game just once. Last season with the Coyotes, he faced 162 shots in his first four games, and an average of 31.5 shots for the season.


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"The team in front of me is much better than I ever expected and so far I don't have that much to do," Bryzgalov told the Vancouver Province. "There is so much youth and experience on this team and with the way they have the right training experience here and everything, they are reducing the scoring chances I am facing."

While the Flyers viewed Bryzgalov as a necessity, Vokoun's availability was a bit of a surprise. The first-day frenzy of free agency came and went without teams offering him a desirable deal. Realizing time and opportunities were going fast, his agent called McPhee and proposed a one-year, $1.5 million contract. McPhee jumped at the chance.

"I guess we got lucky because he wanted to go to a team that has a chance to win a Cup," McPhee said the day of the signing.

"We were certainly willing to play our top young goaltenders, but I think people will agree this addition makes us deep again at the most important position in the game," McPhee added. "We love what we have in Holtby and we certainly love what we have in Neuvirth, but from an organizational standpoint, we're all better off having this depth."

Much like the Flyers, the Capitals have seen a strong return on their investment. The Caps are a perfect 5-0-0, and Vokoun has posted four wins, a 1.94 GAA, .935 save percentage and one shutout.

That play is vital, as Neuvirth is out with a bruised foot.

"Bringing in the veteran experience feels very valuable right now," McPhee told "Nothing seems to bother him. He's a good pro. He practices well, he practices hard. He seems to have a calming influence on the people around him."

After allowing five goals in his season debut, he's let in just three in the last four games.

"Five, two, one and (zero) is what he's given up in the last four games," Caps coach Bruce Boudreau told the Washington Post after Vokoun stopped all 20 shots in Tuesday's 3-0 win against the Panthers. "You can't do much better than that. He's pretty solid, and when we did have breakdowns, he's there to help us out and you need that."

While public sentiment when Vokoun was signed was that he would be the No. 1 goalie, McPhee said he sees no reason to anoint anyone with that title.

"We're OK because we think we're solid at that position with a veteran and two young guys that can play," he said. "We're comfortable knowing whoever is in the net will put us in position to win."

The Flyers feel the same about Bryzgalov.

"The way he plays, he's always under control and never out of position," center Claude Giroux told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "He works hard, and when one of your best players has that attitude, obviously everybody is going to follow."

Contact Adam Kimelman at Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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