Two weeks ago on Crashing the Crease, I examined some of Ilya Bryzgalov’s goals against in action for the KHL’s CSKA Moscow. At the time, Philly’s favorite cosmonaut had an 0-2 record, 4.02 goals-against average and a save percentage of .857. He was also made a healthy scratch at one point in his run, causing much concern for those able to watch him back home.
However, looking into his play in those first two games revealed a goaltender making many saves he should, some he shouldn’t, and ultimately being let down, for the most part, by his defense. At the time, it seemed like concern about Bryzgalov’s play may be a bit premature.
Well, it now appears as though it might be time to worry.
For a brief time, doubts were quelled when Bryzgalov made his third outing for CSKA count with a stellar 4-1 victory over Salavat Ufa, stopping 30 of 31 shots. In the game, he also made sure to entertain as usual with his much-publicized falling down gaffe.
Aside form his high-light reel spill, however, he made several key saves and turned in an outright solid performance. And for his efforts, he was rewarded with a second straight start against Ak Bars. Unfortunately, it would be his last start for now.
The first goal is difficult to fault Bryz for. Ak Bars’ opening tally comes off the rush, with a feed through the slot for a pretty easy slam dunk. The second goal also comes off of a play that is difficult to read. Pesonen’s feed slips past Obukhov on its way to Jarkko Immonen, who absolutely hammers it home. The play is brilliant in that Obukhov’s slight tip totally fools Bryz, who squares up to Obukhov instead of the eventual shooter, Immonen. Bryz takes at least some blame for not reading it correctly, but it is an understandable error. And up to this point in the game, Bryz was solid.
CSKA would fight back from a two goal deficit to tie the game at 2-2 in the third period, but not five minutes later, Bryz surrendered the lead to Ak Bars on a shot that is most definitely stoppable.
The third goal begins with a bad defensive turnover at the blue line by Ilya Zubov. Danis Zaripov strips him of the puck, dances around Sergei Gimayev, but is forced fairly wide in the process. He completes a brilliant individual effort by shoveling the puck backhand on Bryz, once again demonstrates his weak stick discipline by failing to correctly cover the five hole and allow a somewhat weak shot through at a big moment.
The fourth goal Bryz allows is, once again, a defensive breakdown. Immonen’s second goal of the game would have required a very difficult save to stop, as he is given tons of time and space to walk in and pick the corner.
Few goaltenders are likely to make that save, but like many of Bryzgalov’s more forgettable performances, this game seems to follow the same simple formula that his games in Philadelphia have: Bryz plays fairly well for most of it but is let down by a couple of defensive breakdowns, while at some point allowing a soft goal before failing to come up with a difficult/big save with the game on the line. The last goal for Ak Bars would be an empty netter.
It is not encouraging in the least to see Bryzgalov’s current season in the KHL — a place his is supposedly much more comfortable with than Philadelphia — following the same ups and downs that his games in the Orange and Black did.
It is even more worrisome that since this game against Ak Bars, Bryzgalov has been replaced by relatively unknown Rastislav Stana, and inserted back onto the scratch list. In consecutive starts since replacing Ilya, Stana has posted a 2-0 shutout victory over Lev with 33 saves and then a 22-save, 3-2 victory over Slovan Bratislava.
Two weeks ago, it was easy to discount Bryzgalov’s 0-2 start with one benching as still getting into the groove and shaking off the rust from having had no training camp or preseason preparation for games. In the two games since, his stats have actually gone up to a 3.27 GAA and .887 SV%, but these are both fairly miserable. And the fact that he is not even warming the bench is worse.
I have often been one to defend Bryzgalov as I genuinely believe he was better in Anaheim and Phoenix than he has been since moving to Philadelphia and that the poor play he demonstrated last season was most likely an anomaly. Phoenix’s defense-first system may have benefitted him somewhat, but a goalie does not often post five-plus years of solid stats on two different teams and then turn into a bum. Moreover, I have never agreed for Philadelphia’s impatience when it comes to declaring a goaltending crisis because often times goalies just need a little patience as they right the ship.
But with Bryz, it is beginning to look like it may be time to stop being patient, and start being quite concerned — even for the most patient of us.