Oh what a difference two days make!
If you watched the games the Flyers played this past weekend against St. Louis and Toronto, you might be inclined to think that you were watching two different sets of players wearing orange and black sweaters. The increase in the quality of team play between these two games, separated by a measly two days, was astounding to me. The team play both greatly affected and was affected by the quality of goaltending provided by Ilya Bryzgalov and Sergei Bobrovsky.
On Saturday night, the Flyers squared off against the St. Louis Blues, a team playing its second game in as many nights after defeating the Carolina Hurricanes in a hard-fought shootout decision on Friday. While St. Louis hadn’t previously played since the previous Tuesday, and thusly had several days of rest, that is clearly no excuse for the result, which anyone could see.
The Blues were faster, sharper, and overall better than the Flyers were for the entire first period and much of the game. This lackluster play quickly found its way into the Flyers net less than two minutes into the game when a weak point shot by defenseman Kent Huskins snuck its way through traffic and past Bryzgalov for the game’s first goal.
Though Bryzgalov made several tough saves throughout the first period, keeping the Flyers in the game while they sleepwalked through the first 20 minutes, he was powerless to prevent the Blues from increasing their lead when a bouncing puck made its way to T.J. Oshie.
The St. Louis forward flipped the over the sprawling body of Bryzgalov for the team’s second goal. St. Louis’ third goal was a result of horrible defense as neither Andrej Meszaros nor Braydon Coburn found it necessary to pay attention to Alex Steen as he drove the net, or to the puck as it squirted to an open Carlo Colaiacovo who slipped it under the stacked pads of the Flyer netminder for a 3-1 lead.
The fourth St. Louis goal was one which can only be described as a complete breakdown between goaltender and defense. On a Blues’ power play following a mindless cross-checking penalty taken by Scott Hartnell, Bryzgalov went behind the net to handle a dump. As he skated back in front of the net he extended his stick in an attempt to leave the puck for approaching defenseman Braydon Coburn, who promptly stepped over the puck, allowing Matt D’Agostini to put the game out of reach.
To me, a mental error of this magnitude and the lack of communication is completely inexcusable. Though it was obvious to me that Bryzgalov was attempting to leave the puck for Coburn, the defenseman could be excused for misreading the signs. However, it is inexcusable to not have clear communication between a goaltender and a defenseman more than a week into the NHL season (if both speak English, that is).
Bryzgalov admitted after the game that there is no such communication as of yet, which is an unbelievable oversight on the part of both the players and the coaching staff.
Luckily, we were spared any further humiliation as the Flyers came out on fire in their next game against a hot Toronto Maple Leafs squad.
Sergei Bobrovsky got the nod between the pipes for the Flyers, and Philadelphia seemed to gain a burst of confidence. Despite going down early in the game when Phil Kessel found the puck on his stick after a freak bounce off of Matt Walker’s skate, the Flyers controlled the tempo of the game and defeated Toronto 4-2. This was due in large part to the solidity of Bobrovsky in goal.
The young Russian was flawless, beaten only by the freak bounce to Kessel and an unlucky one off the glove of David Steckel, seeming to have every facet of his game firing. Bobrovsky’s glove was lightning quick, his lateral movement was a wonder to behold, and his net presence continues to improve drastically from what it was last season.
Bobrovsky’s progression from a young goaltender fresh out of the KHL who couldn’t speak a lick of English into the confident, poised netminder that we now see a mere 13 or so months later is astounding. Bobrovsky is blossoming into a star goaltender before our eyes. It will be interesting to see just how far he pushes his elder counterpart, Bryzgalov, for playing time.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
• I love Jonathan Quick. The man is unreal. His three shutouts lead the league, occurring in three consecutive games no less, and his 0.81 goals-against average and .972 save percentage. I don’t live in the Los Angeles area, but if his play hasn’t put a damper on all that Jonathan Bernier talk, I don’t know what will.
• The Tampa Bay Lightning have played 9 games already, and 5 of them have been started by Mathieu Garon. The unheralded former Columbus backup has largely outplayed Dwayne Roloson and seems to have his eyes set on stealing the starting job for the first time since starting 63 games for Los Angeles in 2005-06.