Crashing the Crease: It might be time to worry about Bryz.

Ilya Bryzgalov, courtesy

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.

  • Anonymous

    If you watched 2011-12 you should of noticed he needs a workload to perform well and he’s playing with a KHL defense. He came onto a team with other capable goalies already and it’s obvious the Head Coach plays the hot goalie. No one should be worrying about Bryz play now and probably until he’s back in Philly.

    • Kevin J Appel

      In all fairness, Rastislav Stana and Ilya Proskuryakov are capable for the KHL, but hardly NHL names. For Bryz to be outplayed by either is concerning regardless of Bragin’s tendencies regarding his starters.

      Moreover, Bryzgalov did not perform better solely due to a higher workload; he performs at his best when he faces a larger number of shots from the outside. In his most successful games in Philly, the majority of his high-volume games (regarding shots against) involved a large number of perimeter shots, or jamming wrap plays/rebounds down low. Bryz is big, and he’s good at that.

      The problems come when teams are allowed to work into the slot or generate any lateral plays. Neither the Flyers nor CSKA have been tremendous at shutting these chances down, and consider this: he may be working with a KHL defense, but he’s also facing a KHL offense. And in any event, he’s looking just like he was last season, which was a letdown from his career prior to arriving in Philly.

      At a certain point, he needs to start making strides toward recapturing that form. Being a healthy scratch in the KHL is does not bode well for those of us waiting for him to play better with consistency, as he’s shown to be capable of in the past.

  • HC Steen

    The only thing I would be worried about is that if the lockout drags on he will start to adjust to the style of play in KHL and pick up (consciously or unconsciously) habits that will be detrimental to him when he’s back in Philly. This is one reason that a lot of goalies haven’t moved to Europe.

    • Kevin J Appel

      This is a good point. I’m not sure if he will develop worse habits than some of the one he’s had for the past couple years; however, one thing that seems apparent thus far is that he is definitely not refining his technical game.

      So the best case scenario may be that he just doesn’t get any worse. But I think most of us Flyers fans hoped that going to play back home might help him find a comfort zone and get better.

      Thanks for reading!

  • wheineman

    I know that there is no hockey here right now, but can we really judge our goalie while he plays for a new team in another country? This article is pointless link bait!

    • Kevin Christmann

      I disagree Will. I think you can glean information regardless of where they are playing, especially in what probably is the best league in the world at the moment haha.

      Also Kevin tends to break things down and view things from a technical and functional perspective. If he says he’s seeing fundamental flaws, I tend to believe him. Goaltending is hard to judge sometimes!

    • Justin Brennan

      Will, not to pile on, but I have to disagree, as well.

      While I know first-hand how playing down or in a new league can “reveal” flaws that aren’t really there, I don’t think that’s what we’re seeing here.

      That third goal is illustrative of what you don’t want to see a pro-level or even solid normal goalie do: goals through you or goals under you. The play came on a terrible defensive breakdown, no doubt, but Bryz tracked well and was in position to make the save. Disregarding it because of fact that he’s in Russia also dismisses the recurring lack of stick discipline that Bryz has shown time and time again while moving laterally.

      The fourth goal is difficult because it’s a pass across with a shot coming against the grain, and he’s even on-angle. The issue is that he’s going into a blocking butterfly (not reactive, hands at the sides) while keeping his depth inside the top of the crease. To do what he wanted to do, he needed to get some better depth (ideally heels on the top of the crease, at least).

      The technical flaws are there, they’re consistent with what we’ve seen here, and they’re not getting better.

      In other words, don’t be surprised if post-lockout Bryz isn’t much better than pre-lockout Bryz. Something’s not right with him.

  • Mike

    How are you counting his time in Anaheim as solid? Did you even watch him or look at his stats from that period of time? Let’s remind ourselves that .915 is an a middle of the road, but good starting goalie’s svpct. .920 is very good, and anything above that is solid.

    Bryz in Anaheim:
    27gp, .9079gp, .909
    He goes to Phoenix;55gp, .92165, .90669, .92068, .921
    Philadelphia:59, .909

    What I’m noticing is that his time in Anaheim was anything but good. He couldn’t beat out J.S. Gigguere, who was a solid (but not exceptional) goaltender. Then, he went to Phoenix and he had three very good years. But in that four year period, he had a regression year to .906. Now, in his first year in Philadelphia, he reverted back to a sub .910 save percentage. Philadelphia’s system under Lavy is a left wing lock aggressive forecheck, that plays a standard defensive set-up and breakout. Anaheim played the same thing. Defensively, Phoenix plays a shot-block oriented scheme with one forward pressuring high, and four players back creating a “house” around the net. This was the only system in which Bryz succeeded in. But was this Bryz’s merit? Or is it the system? Mike Smith had a bigger history of up and down (very down) play than Bryz, and in his first season in Phoenix he registered a .930 svpct. So I must now ask you, with 7 seasons, three of which having around .920 and 4 of which having below .910 svptct, was last year the anomaly? Or was the success an anomaly?

    • Justin Brennan

      Kevin and I were talking about this earlier.

      I’m a firm believer that Bryz is, realistically, a 90.5-91% goalie. Watching him in Phoenix, I saw a guy who played deep in the net, moved poorly and had a bad attitude when he got down. I was hopeful that this was just because my last memories of him there were from the Red Wings series, but I’d say it’s not so far.

      Kevin and I have also argued this extensively. I thought the signing was an overpriced, reactive mistake, and of course that’s easy to say now, but I could very well be proven wrong in a few years.

      Bryz has, to Kevin’s points, put up some solid numbers in key situations in Anaheim and Phoenix. To be fair, he was playing a lot better at that time (i.e. it wasn’t all system). To paint it entirely as one or the other, IMO, is a bit extreme and ultimately inaccurate.

    • Kevin J Appel

      Of course I watched him and looked at his stats. A “solid” – here meaning capable of being a full time starter – NHL goaltender will post somewhere from .905 to .917. From .918 to .924 you have your very good starters, and anything above that is top notch.

      In Anaheim – including playoffs in which he posted very good numbers over 16 games – Bryzgalov looked like a capable starting goaltender. In Phoenix, he played well and, paired with Phoenix’s system (which obviously benefits goalies), saw his numbers rise up around that .917 mark (his average there.)

      If he were posting .917 in Philadelphia, there would not be much to complain about. I don’t think there’s any doubt that Bryz saw elevated statistical performance while playing in Phoenix, but the fact is that last year he did not appear to be a goaltender capable of getting up to that .910 mark until he had a brilliant run in March. And now, he is posting a .887 in the KHL and has been benched.

      Is Bryz ever going to be as good as he was in Phoenix? Probably not with the way the Flyers play.

      But right now, he’s looking worse than he has at any point, and I personally don’t believe system is solely responsible. System can help, but it’s not going to make a guy who is presently struggling to stay above .900 into an above-average starter for several years consecutively. At this point, I think something is legitimately wrong other than playing behind a different system.

      Thanks for the feedback!

  • Bronson

    …and the Flyers chose Leighton to back him up. Why? :(