Welcome to the newest edition of “Point/Counterpoint,” where a pair of Flyers Faithful scribes present both sides of one particular issue with their own unique view and flair. This week, Marcello D and Kim Q square off over Ilya Bryzgalov’s mental status.
Point: Marcello D.
Ilya Bryzgalov has become a zen master, cool as a cucumber in a bowl of hot sauce.
For the second straight week, Ilya Bryzgalov was named the “First Star” by the NHL after winning eight of nine possible games in March, getting 17 of 18 possible points, posting four shutouts in five games, setting a franchise high watermark scoreless streak, all while boosting his previously poor numbers to a respectable .911 SV% and 2.49 GAA.
In his last game, perhaps the biggest test of the season, Bryzgalov limited the almighty Penguins to two goals, held Sidney Crosby off the scoresheet (-1) after Crosby posted five points in his first two games back, and snapped the Penguins’ 11-game win streak.
Is Bryzgalov quirky or perhaps a little bit unstable? Sure. What goalie isn’t? Many athletes in the most important position in their sport are often considered to be cut from a different cloth.
As such, Bryz will continue to have ups and downs throughout his tenure in Philadelphia. He’ll balance out his hilarious comments with off-putting ones. He’ll alienate others and himself. He’ll be adorned and scorned by the media.
This an inevitable and unfortunate reality. It is a part of who he is, not a reflection of how he plays.
It is important that we make this distinction and do not confuse the two.
Bryzgalov will always be a polarizing figure who will cause fans to call each other crazy or bandwagoners based on his performance. He will always make headlines and do something that catches your attention.
So it goes. We need to come to peace with these truths, just like Bryzgalov needed to find peace in his soul to play in this city and he his found just that. The statistics speak for themselves.
Counterpoint: Kim Q
“Like a duck on the pond. On the surface everything looks calm, but beneath the water those little feet are churning a mile a minute.” –Jimmy McGinty, The Replacements
Ilya Bryzgalov has been putting up some impressive numbers lately. We’ve seen all shades of “Bryz” this season; a self admitted man of many masks. Ilya Bryzgalov, like many NHL goaltenders has a quirky personality that sometimes makes him seem cocky, sometimes audacious and at the low points, downright depressed. Remember that when the Coyotes were swept by the Redwings in 4 games, Bryzgalov took the blame and proclaimed himself a “goat” when talking to the media. This is the same guy that lamented over the lack of parks in Winnipeg and the same guy that joked that if his former Coyotes team lost in the Stanley cup finals, none of the locals would even notice. Why is it then that we were so taken aback by his candor and seemingly offbeat comments during the first part of the season? From being “lost in the woods” to searching for “peace in his soul” to play in this city; we have seen him struggle and play some of his worst hockey. Some might say that he has found the peace he was seeking after the disappointing loss to Pittsburgh a month ago, however I’m not so sure that peace is what Bryzgalov has.
He did struggle early on, whether from the glaring spotlight, the constant presence of HBO 24/7 crew, the pressure from certain members of the Philly media to provide entertainment or perhaps the void left by the absence of Chris Pronger. Pronger and Bryz were teammates in Anaheim. Pronger is a strong voice in the locker room. Perhaps Bryz needed Pronger to help rein him in. More likely, it was a combination of the above.
The winter classic benching was hopefully not a defining moment in Bryzgalov’s career with the Flyers. He was visibly bitter and upset by not being able to play in the outdoor game and he let it be known to a very willing set of reporters. He voiced his discontent with the situation and the media provided an outlet. He’s gone from blunt, candid remarks about his dismal play to refusing to talk about anything remotely close to his own performance when on a 7 game win-streak. No, that doesn’t strike me as having found peace.
Just before his play pulled a 180° turn, Danny Briere talked to Tim Panaccio about much of what we as fans saw and some of what we didn’t see. He talked about how Bryz was all over the place, and how his teammates and the coaching staff had talked to Bryz about being, well, being not so Bryz-like. After the meeting between Bryzgalov and the team’s leadership group it seemed that the relationship between Bryz and his teammates had improved and so did his play.
“We’ve seen all kinds of Bryz this year. He’s never the same. He’s all over the place. But the last couple of weeks, he’s actually been a great teammate and hopefully, he stays that way.”
“That’s the way it should be. If he wants the guys to keep playing hard for him, he needs to be a great teammate the way he has been lately, and it’s been fun having him around, too.”
“Before, just trying to bring everything, everything was about Bryz. “When he played well, when he played bad, everything was about Bryz. “
“I found lately, a lot more; it’s not just about him. He’s able to take the blame when there is and give credit to his teammates when that is. That is a learning process for him; new guys, new teammates.”
But was it all about Bryz in the beginning? The season started off well enough with a win in the season opener to spoil the Bruins banner raising and then Bryzgalov’s first shutout in just his second game as a Flyer. He had no problems giving his teammates credit back then. He gushed about his team, how they blocked shots and played team defense, and about how good their work ethic is.
Almost on cue and in response to those comments, Ilya’s former team visited Philadelphia in November and some rather unflattering remarks were made about Bryzgalov by two of his former teammates. Derek Morris said that Bryz was known for letting in bad goals and how much happier they were that Bryz was gone and even said there was animosity with Bryz in the Phoenix locker room. Adrian Aucoin agreed that there was animosity in the locker room last year and implied that Bryz sometimes said or did things that rubbed guys the wrong way.
Fast forward to the present, to 8 wins in a row, to a 3 game shutout streak, a new name in the record book, and a goalie that refuses to talk about himself. In almost rehearsed fashion, Bryzgalov has made every post-game interview an opportunity to shower praise on his teammates. His statements to the media seem calculated, somber and almost cold.
Call me crazy, but it is rather out of character for a character like Bryzgalov. Where’s the fun in winning if it appears that you are not having fun at all? It’s obvious that some sort of mutual understanding was reached between the team and Bryz. Maybe Bryz realized that he needed his teammates to be successful. Maybe he realized just how good they could be. Maybe the meeting was a way for Bryz to voice his concerns and needs. Scott Hartnell has acknowledged that they are playing better in front of Bryz now, they are playing better defense again and blocking more shots and in return, Bryz is making the big saves.
Whatever was said, it worked. Bryz is playing some stellar hockey, even if his personality is a muted version of what it usually is. I wonder if he’s going be able to continue suppressing his normal self or if at some point he’ll be the old Bryz again. It’s not easy to always wear a mask, but he’s particularly adept at it. He’s somber, quiet and humble lately. It’s so out of character that I wonder when the ball is going to drop. Peace? No, I don’t think he’s found peace. He’s like a teapot just before the water boils; a duck on a pond…and somehow it’s making the team better.