Tapping the Pipes 11/1/11

Oh what a tangled web Flyers goaltenders weave.

In the three games the team has played over the last week we’ve seen a clunker by one guy, a clunker by both guys, and an impressive performance which hopefully will garner an increase in confidence in the #1 guy.

Clunker number one occurred on last Wednesday when Ilya Bryzgalov took the ice against a Montreal Canadiens team which had yet to win a game at home on the year and had just suffered an upheaval behind the bench with the firing of longtime assistant coach Perry Pearn.

Things began rather smoothly for the Flyers, carrying the play for much of the first period and taking a 1-0 lead on Jaromir Jagr’s one-timer just under 11 minutes into the game. Unfortunately, the Flyers seemed to suffer from a case of amnesia as the 1st period came to an end. Specifically forgetting how to play the game of hockey. The Habs swarmed in the Flyer zone in the closing seconds of the period and capped off their pressure when Yannick Weber’s blast found its way through Bryzgalov with 2.7 seconds remaining. From there on out it was the Canadiens’ hockey game.

Just over 10 minutes into the second period, Montreal took its first lead of the game, a margin which they would never look back from. With Brayden Schenn and Danny Briere trailing the play, the Canadiens broke into the zone, putting the puck on the net. The shot caromed off the arm of a sprawling Bryzgalov and onto the stick of Andrei Kostitsyn, who shoveled it past the fallen goaltender.

Just over two minutes later, Montreal extended its lead to two when a puck deflected off of the skate of Andrej Meszaros and directly onto the tape of Max Pacioretty who zipped a shot past Bryzgalov’s glove. Bryzgalov was in the butterfly centered in the crease, expecting the original shot to reach him, and was unable to recover quickly enough when the puck changed direction.

The third period consisted of much of the same play. Just over three minutes into the period, a shot deflected off of Bryzgalov’s glove before dropping into the crease. Tomas Plekanec had a whack at the puck before Matt Walker could get there, but it took the late-arriving Pacioretty to lift the puck over the outstretched arms of the netminder and into the twine. Bryzgalov should have caught the original shot, but instead dropped it right in front of Montreal’s leading scorer.

On the other hand, he did make two or three in-close shots after the puck dropped in the paint with the defense nowhere to be found. The icing on the red, white, and blue cake came later in the period when Bryzgalov slid too far outside of the post in an attempt to poke the puck away from David Desharnais, leaving a wide open net for Mike Cammalleri to pump a shot into.

The team returned home the next night to meet an offensively challenged Winnipeg Jets club which had scored a meager 17 goals in the 8 games prior. The Flyers countered with Sergei Bobrovsky, spelling Bryzgalov for the second game in two nights. The game, however, would not be friendly to any of the four goaltenders who appeared in it.

Halfway through the first period, with the Flyers leading 1-0, a point shot from Blake Wheeler deflected off of an unsuspecting Randy Jones (you might remember him. Tall, orange, conical with a white stripe?) and past Bobrovsky, who was sliding in the complete opposite direction in anticipation of Wheeler’s shot reaching the net. Not long after, a one-time blast by depth forward Jim Slater beat Bobrovsky short-side for the Jets’ first lead of the night. In the closing minutes of the period, the Flyers’ misfortune continued when Tobias Enstrom’s point shot deflected off of Kyle Wellwood’s stick and behind Bobrovsky for the third Winnipeg goal of the period.

For how ugly the first period turned out to be, the second period began even uglier. Another Tobias Enstrom shot sailed toward the outstretched glove of Bobrovsky and caromed off the outstretched stick of Tanner Glass for a 4-1 Jets lead. The horrible bounces which have plagued the Flyers since the season began bit them again exactly one minute later when Tim Stapleton won a faceoff directly onto Nik Antropov’s stick, who was all alone in front of the net and beat Bobrovsky like a rented mule for a 5-1 lead.

That would spell the end of Bobrovsky’s night after 5 goals allowed, three of which he had absolutely no chance to stop. However his replacement would not fare any better.

A little over halfway through the second period, Antropov fed a highlight reel pass to Evander Kane for a 6-2 Winnipeg lead. Antropov stood on top of the crease to the left of Bryzgalov and shoveled a no-look backhand pass between his legs and onto the stick of Kane for the goal. It was an absolute thing of beauty. It was after this goal that the Flyers came storming back, scoring 5 consecutive goals to snatch a 7-6 lead. However the euphoria would not last long.

Just 28 seconds after James van Riemsdyk’s goal, Alexander Burmistrov converted yet another great Antropov pass into the tying goal, slipping the puck inside the post a fraction of a second before Bryzgalov’s skate closed off the hole. It was a pinpoint play. A minute later, Mark Stuart shot the puck through Bryzgalov’s five-hole on a play that an NHL goaltender has to make. In a rare show of on-ice emotion, Bryzgalov revealed his displeasure by slamming his stick against the post. The miserable night came to an end when Andrew Ladd converted a Blake Wheeler pass into Winnipeg’s terminal goal of the game and capped off a 9-8 final.

Following the game, Bryzgalov stood in front of the media in the locker room and assumed full responsibility for the loss, referring to his play as “terrible”. To me, these comments are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, your team’s new franchise goaltender admitting that he is terrible and has no confidence is, at the very least, not good.

On the other hand, he did exactly what a leader should do and shoulder the blame, taking the weight off of his teammates’ shoulders. The following game was certainly an indication that this was the case.

The Flyers had a day off on Friday before resuming their schedule at the Wells Fargo Center against a Carolina Hurricanes team which played the previous night and was starting former Flyer netminder Brian Boucher between the pipes.

In an impressive showing, the Flyers took it to the tired Canes throughout the game and skated away with a 5-1 victory. The lone blemish on Bryzgalov’s night came in the second period. The Hurricanes broke into the zone and Chad LaRose fed Jiri Tlusty a cross-ice pass, causing Bryzgalov to slide across the crease in the butterfly and make an impressive left pad stop on the streaking Carolina forward. Unfortunately Scott Hartnell then arrived on the scene, losing an edge and careening into the Philadelphia goaltender and taking him out of the play, giving Jussi Jokinen a wide open net into which to flip the puck.

All in all, it was a very strange week for the Flyers.

The bad bounces which have plagued the team throughout this young season reared their ugly heads all week, be it pucks bouncing off of Flyers’ skates and directly to the other team or marvels of hand-eye coordination displayed by fourth-liners. However it was a terrible week for the goaltenders’ statistics.

Bobrovsky allowing five goals in just over a half of a game against Winnipeg, be them his fault or not, dropped his save percentage from the .910’s down to .859. Bryzgalov’s terrible showing against Winnipeg and weak performance in Montreal dropped his statistics to outside the top 30 goaltenders in the league. Not what you’re looking for from your $51 million goaltender. It remains to be seen whether his strong performance against the Hurricanes will bode well for games to come.

Let’s hope it does.