With the NHL’s 2013 Season finally underway, Crashing the Crease will evaluate the Flyers’ goaltending performances every Thursday in order to answer the inevitable dilemma in Flyerdom: what is going on in net?
Week one has seen Ilya Bryzgalov play all three games of the Flyers’ 0-3 start, and the questions are already flying about just what is wrong with this team. For many, as is so often the story in Philadelphia, the finger pointing begins and ends with the goaltender. But is that fair?
The easy answer would be to look at Bryzgalov’s stat line from the 3-1, 5-2, and 3-0 losses in which he’s posted a 3.04 GAA and .902 SV% and assume that he is, in fact, worse than last year and at fault. However, looking at his play reveals that most of the goals have just been poor D while Bryz has actually been playing well.
Game one: Pittsburgh Penguins 3, Philadelphia Flyers 1
Against the hated Penguins, the Flyers started a trend that has stuck with them through all three games so far of starting out poorly and giving up early goals. Just 4:40 into the game, Bryz gave up his first goal on the season, a point shot redirected off of Luke Schenn’s stick:
Deflections are tricky to deal with at the best of times. In the past, I have made some suggestions on how goalies can approach deflections in front, but on this play Bryz had few options. A deflection can be anticipated by the goaltender when an offensive player is close in front of them and defended by getting close to the deflection point, but Schenn gets tied with Kennedy up on this play more than a stick’s length away.
Because of that, Bryz is left with nothing but pure reflexes on a low stick side shot that suddenly tips high glove. On a redirect this sudden, there probably isn’t a glove in the league quick enough to snag this puck.
The Penguins would pot their next goal just over 3 minutes later, coming off of a clean faceoff win and a wicked one-timer from James Neal:
This goal is certainly more stoppable than the first, as Bryzgalov gets a piece of it before it goes in off of him and in. Any time a shot comes in that close to the body and still finds its way through, it becomes a goal any goalie wishes they could have back. However, this is mitigated somewhat by the fact that Neal really shouldn’t be getting such a clean shot immediately off the draw. This is a save that would be nice to have made, but not necessarily one that should have been made given the circumstances.
Game Grade: A. A goaltender’s job is to give his team a chance to win it, and Bryzgalov absolutely did that for the Flyers in this game. The second Penguins’ goal might have been somewhat questionable, but Bryz finished strong, posted a .923 SV%, and also made several good saves.
Game two: Buffalo Sabres 5, Philadelphia Flyers
This game was far closer than the 5-2 score would indicate. Once again, the Flyers would yield an empty netter late, leaving Bryz on the hook for 4 goals. In reality, the Flyers probably should have been right in this game until the end, but two disallowed goals made a difference in the outcome.
Once again, the Flyers went down early on the PK as Ott blasts this one-timer high on Bryz:
This shot is what is referred to as going “against the grain,” and is incredibly difficult to stop: Bryz is moving to the top of the crease and towards his glove side, and then Ott shoots the puck high blocker – essentially forcing Bryz to reach back against his own momentum to try to make a save. On a blast like this, that just isn’t happening.
After taking a 2-1 lead, the Flyers would blow it after a major breakdown in communication lets Buffalo’s best player in Vanek in on a breakaway:
Bryzgalov gets caught a little flat footed here, failing to perfectly match Vanek’s speed. He also gets fooled by the shifty little move Vanek makes and seems to bite on a backhand move toward his stick side, forcing him to reach out the left pad and stick in a last-ditch effort to poke Vanek on his way around. It doesn’t work.
The third goal of the game would come from Tyler Myers, this time off of Kimmo Timonen, establishing another trend this year of the Flyers scoring on themselves:
Once again, there’s not much Bryz can do here. A shot headed low glove has him reaching so he can kick it out, and the puck knicks off Timonen and heads five hole instead. It’s possible that a little better stick discipline might have helped, but in all reality the change in angle means the puck is almost coming from the side of the five hole. Unless Bryz had his stick jammed right up against his pads (which isn’t really even proper form on a point shot, as the stick should be in front and angled to ramp the puck up out of play), there’s not much he can do on a redirection this sharp.
The final goal on Bryz comes courtesy of Hodgson, who jams in a loose puck after a nice breakaway save as the Flyers D is – once again – nowhere in sight:
Bryzgalov makes a real nice save on Vanek, coming out to challenge well and matching speed perfectly, holding his ground and keeping his blocker in good position. Voracek slides well past the net, leaving Hodgson all alone to jam the puck in right out from under Bryzgalov’s glove with a non-kicking motion as he tries to clear his own porch.
Game Grade: A-. It’s rare for a goaltender to give up 4 goals and yet finish with a SV% of .900 or higher, and Bryzgalov does that in this one. He made a lot of saves and kept the Flyers within striking distance against Buffalo. Had the officials not had other ideas, the Flyers may very well have gotten their first point out of this one.
Game Three: New Jersey Devils 3, Philadelphia Flyers 0.
At one point in this game, Bryzgalov’s SV% was under .500, as the Devils scored on 3 of their first 6 shots. Immediately, Bryzgalov was thrown under the bus for this statistical failure, and the anecdotal “he needs a big save there” argument came into play specifically on the Kovalchuk penalty shot, but it’s hard to fault Bryz for this one once again.
Zajac gets the Flyers off to their poorest start of the season, getting to an uncontested rebound just over a minute in:
Many slammed Bryz for not being able to hold onto this rebound, but the slow motion replay shows that Zajac actually gets his stick right in there with Bryzgalov’s. It’s hard to tell, but from the way this puck trickles out to Zajac, I actually think he knocks this down before Bryz makes clean contact with it. Bryz has his stick at the proper angle, so a point shot that hard and flat should just deflect up and out of play. However, it pops straight out and over to Zajac instead who has managed to elude all of the Flyers who bizarrely jam onto the strong side and ignore everything else. Bryz has absolutely no way of catching up to Zajac, who is already wrapping out from the corner and has him beat on momentum for the easy tuck in.
Goal two is just a fluke play by Clarkson. Many people were upset with Bryz for this one, but frankly this is just one of those bounces. Realizing that Bryz is unable to prevent a centering attempt due to his sticklessness, Clarkson throws it in front off of Fedotenko’s skate, and it bounces in far side. Smart play by Clarkson, bad bounce for Philly. Simple as that.
The third goal on six shots comes from a dazzling move by Kovalchuk, one of the best in the league one-on-one:
Kovalchuk is a special player. When he gets a penalty shot, it’s the New Jersey Devils’ equivalent of Giroux getting a penalty shot: it’s simply expected to wind up in the net, and this one does. He makes that slight shoulder fake forehand, a little twitch fake shot to get Bryz dropping, and he makes a perfect backhand shelf finish. Bryz actually gets his stick and pad pretty close to Kovalchuk’s release point on this one, but he wires it straight to the top shelf. Nobody’s stopping that one.
Game Grade: B. Despite finishing with just a .885 SV% (not bad, considering it was sub .500 at one point), Bryz held the fort respectably for the rest of this game even when nobody else seemed to be playing anymore. Some would somehow pin that on him, but none of the goals were on him, and “they needed a big save” just isn’t the kind of logic that holds up when your team is playing that poorly and giving up those chances. The Flyers’ parade to the box late in the game saw him put in some good work on the penalty kill, which actually looked halfway decent at times.
In looking over all of the goals Bryzgalov has given up so far, three of the nine goals have come off of his own defensemen rather than opponents. Only two can be remotely blamed on Bryz – those being the Neal goal and maybe the Zajac goal for those who absolutely refuse to accept that rebound sometimes just happen – which leaves 7 more goals that need explaining. So far, Bryzgalov has been one of the better Flyers on the ice, even in spite of the team’s struggles. Despite being left out to dry, he has appeared ready to go and focused in all three games, and consistently given the team the chance to win. That’s all that can be asked from a goaltender, and this week he delivered.