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Flyers expect more out of Bryzgalov in year two

by Adam Kimelman

VOORHEES, N.J. -- Watching Ilya Bryzgalov in his first season with the Philadelphia Flyers, teammate Scott Hartnell was reminded of his first season with the team.

Like Bryzgalov, Hartnell arrived from a non-traditional hockey market and signed a lucrative, long-term contract.

Ilya Bryzgalov
Ilya Bryzgalov
Goalie - PHI
RECORD: 5-6-1
GAA: 3.46 | SVP: 0.887
"Took me 20 games to get my first goal coming here," Hartnell told reporters Thursday. "You got the big contract … I was definitely feeling pressure for sure when I got here."

The second season, he said, was far easier for having gone through the first-year difficulties. On the ice, he responded with the best season of his career to that point.

He's not alone in believing Bryzgalov could travel that same path next season.

"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."

Bryzgalov declined to talk to the media about his first season with the Flyers. He went 33-16-7 with a 2.48 goals-against average and .908 save percentage, but he was inconsistent on and off the ice.

He had a four-game losing streak in October and a five-game winning streak in December. He struggled to get on the same page with his defensemen, and he blamed a number of goals on shots that were blocked or tipped by his teammates in an attempt to help him.

In 20 games between Dec. 17 and Feb. 23, he went 7-7-4, and upset some of his veteran teammates by announcing he would not be starting in the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic before the club wanted the information shared publicly.


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Things changed during a late-season West Coast swing, and in March he played like the best goalie in League. He posted three straight shutouts, set a club record for longest consecutive scoreless streak and went 10-2-1 with a 1.43 goals-against average to win the NHL Player of the Month award.

He was average in the first round against the Penguins and better in the second round against the Devils, but in the view of many he didn't meet the expectations placed on him when the Flyers made him the centerpiece of a major roster overhaul and signed him to a nine-year, $51 million contract.

"Did he play as good as I expected this year? I would say no," GM Paul Holmgren said.

Off the ice, some of Bryzgalov's statements to the media -- most of which revolved around the buildup to the Winter Classic -- rankled a few of his teammates. Bryzgalov was far less effusive as the season wore on, but Holmgren said there was no concerted effort by the organization to rein him in.

"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."

It's expected that walk will be far easier in the second year of his contract.

"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."

Hartnell agreed.

"I think everyone could see the last half of the year and the playoffs, he was as good as anyone there is out there," he said. "I'm confident in Bryz and I think he'll feel a bit more comfortable next year."

Contact Adam Kimelman at Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK

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