Tapping the Pipes 11/22/11

With a little over a quarter of the season in the books, the Flyers continued their foray through the Southeast Division this week, capping off a stretch during which 7 of their 11 opponents reside there.

But first, the Flyers welcomed Ilya Bryzgalov’s former team into Philadelphia: the Phoenix Coyotes. Whether or not Bryzgalov had heard the less-than-flattering opinions that former teammates Adrian Aucoin and Derek Morris expressed about him, he certainly took a step toward shutting them up.

After an evenly played two periods of hockey, the Flyers were riding a 1-0 lead thanks to James van Riemsdyk’s 7th goal of the season, but Bryzgalov allowed his first and only goal of the game to Mikkel Boedker.

After going around Matt Carle, Boyd Gordon threw the puck on net from a sharp angle. The shot deflected off of Bryzgalov’s left leg and to the side of the net, where eventual goalscorer Boedker battled with Claude Giroux for the puck. After muscling Giroux behind the net, Boedker came back out in front and was able to take several whacks at the puck before Carle could get back into the play, slipping it past Bryzgalov to tie the game.

Bryzgalov had his left pad upright, parallel to the post in order to seal off a near-side shot, but when Boedker brought the puck back out in front the goaltender was unable to get that pad back along the ice because his stick was blocking the way. Boedker found that small opening and slid the puck into the net. It’s a shot that Bryzgalov should stop, and you could tell from his reaction that he knew it.

Overall, however, the Flyers prevailed in a game featuring strong goaltending from both Bryzgalov and counterpart Mike Smith. Bryzgalov finished the game with 30 saves on 31 shots.

Two days later, the Flyers found themselves on the road against a Winnipeg Jets team which had blown the Flyers’ defense and goaltenders out of the water in their previous meeting. Just as he had in the previous Jets game, Sergei Bobrovsky started in goal for the Flyers and, just like before, Winnipeg jumped out to a fast start and an early lead.

With Harry Zolnierczyk serving a bench-minor penalty, Winnipeg wasted little time. Dustin Byfuglien’s shot from the top of the circle was stopped by Bobrovsky’s butterfly positioning, but the rebound lay out in the crease where Blake Wheeler tapped it under Andrej Meszaros’s stick and to Brian Little, who pumped it into the goal before Bobrovsky could get over. Sergei would probably like to have that rebound back, but tight crisp passing by the Jets forwards is what eventually led to the goal.

A little over two minutes later, Little struck again, this time from the left faceoff circle. After Chris Pronger and Jakub Voracek lost a puck battle against the boards, Wheeler threw the puck to Little who snapped a shot low under Bobrovsky pads before he could get them down. There’s no two ways about this one – it’s a bad goal. A relatively long shot, low, directly at the goaltender should be stopped a majority of the time but Bobrovsky just missed this one.

Then, with the Flyers down a man once again, the Jets opened up a 3-0 lead halfway through the opening period. For the second time, a Byfuglien point shot couldn’t be handled by Bobrovsky, who put the rebound back out into the near-side faceoff circle. After reaching the puck and beating Braydon Coburn with a spin move, Kyle Wellwood threw the puck across to Winnipeg captain Andrew Ladd who made no mistake, pushing the puck low past Bobrovsky’s outstretched skate. There was nothing the Flyer goaltender could do on this shot. Superior puck movement by the Winnipeg power play did the Flyers in.

Going into the second period, with the Flyers trailing 3-1, the Jets again lit the lamp, this time shorthanded. After Pronger mishandled the puck at the point and fell down trying to recover, Jim Slater picked up the puck and streaked in on a two-on-one with Tanner Glass against Carle. Carle did an excellent job of sealing off the passing lane, leaving Bobrovsky and Slater alone.

In this particular matchup, the shooter was victorious with Slater snapping a shot under Bobrovsky’s blocker and inside the far post for the goal. Bobrovsky was in the right position to stop the puck, but was simply beaten by an excellent shot before he could squeeze his right arm against his side.

The backbreaker however occurred just under five minutes later off the stick of Byfuglien. With the Flyers shorthanded once again, Byfuglien collected the puck in the corner along the goal line. Each Jet in front of the net had a Flyer draped on him, so Byfuglien elected to throw the puck at the net in hopes of causing a rebound…but the rebound never came. Big Buff’s shot deflected off the inside of Bobrovsky’s right pad and through the five hole for a 5-1 Winnipeg lead. This is an inexcusable goal on Bobrovsky’s part which would prove to be the game winning goal.

After a furious comeback attempt by the Flyers, the Jets would add an empty net goal to seal their 6-4 victory.

Overall, Bobrovsky made some very good saves in the game to keep the Flyers alive when they were listless early, but the bad angle bank goal by Byfuglien proved to be his undoing. He’d finish the unsuccessful matinee with 34 saves on 39 shots.

The Flyers closed out the week last night with a game against the normally hapless Carolina Hurricanes. The team, however, seemed to throw in the towel early and was thoroughly outplayed in a 4-2 decision.

After several brilliant stops early by Carolina goaltender Cam Ward, including a nice one on Kimmo Timonen, the Hurricanes got on the board first.

With Wayne Simmonds in the penalty box for holding, Carolina made quick work of the Flyer penalty kill. 13 seconds into the man advantage, Chad LaRose gathered the puck in the corner and flipped it over the stick of a diving Kimmo Timonen to a waiting Alexei Ponikarovsky, who tucked it inside the post for the first goal of the game. It would have been a spectacular save had Bryzgalov been able to get to this shot, but he just couldn’t stretch far enough.

Carolina would extend its lead in the final minute of the first period courtesy of second-year standout Jeff Skinner. Skinner broke across the Philadelphia blue line and then proceeded to pull off a remarkable spin move to beat Timonen to the net. Skinner’s initial shot was stopped by the left pad of Bryzgalov, but he was then able to reach back in front of the net and tap it past the goaltender’s skate.

This was a brilliant solo effort by Skinner. Bryzgalov could have done a better job of sealing the post, but nothing less than a superhuman effort by the reigning Calder Trophy winner would have resulted in a goal there.

In the second period, just two minutes after van Riemsdyk cut the lead in half, the ‘Canes struck again, this time in the person of Chad LaRose. LaRose was able to use his speed to find an open patch of ice in the faceoff circle, and Tomas Kaberle found him with a nice pass. Just before Zac Rinaldo could get there, Larose snapped a shot over Bryzgalov’s blocker and into the top shelf to extend the Carolina lead.

This was a nice passing play by the Hurricanes, but Bryzgalov was far too deep in his crease on this goal. Once he went down into the butterfly there was too much room left up high. This goal resulted from Bryzgalov’s failure to play the correct angle.

Late in the second, Ponikarovsky once again struck on the powerplay to close out the scoring. With Andrej Meszaros in the box for high-sticking, Jussi Jokinen threw the puck on net from the circle, which was deflected by Larose and stopped by Bryzgalov. The goaltender must have thought that he had the puck, because he lay down in the crease as if to freeze play. Instead, the puck sat between his legs for Ponikarovski to flip up over him. If Bryzgalov is sitting upright rather than lying on his back, this is not a goal. It was a soft goal to put the game out of reach for the Flyers.

Overall, Bryzgalov allowed two clunkers in this game, finishing the contest with 27 saves on 31 shots.

Bryzgalov finished with a 1-1 record in two starts, stopping 57 out of 62 shots for a .919 SV%. Bobrovsky lost his one start against Winnipeg, stopping 34 of 39 for a .872 SV%.

So far this year, Bryzgalov sits at 30th in the league with a .902 SV% and 24th in the NHL with a 2.75 GAA. He continues to improve, however. In my opinion he is on the right track, but it remains to be seen if he will continue to make a marked improvement on his dismal start to the year.