Crashing the Crease: BryzNasty

Image c/o Tim Frenz

Two weeks ago, I laid out my expectations for Ilya Bryzgalov’s season. In short, I expected him to start well thanks to his keeping the engine warmed up over in Russia, but my fear was the Flyers’ lacking defensive corps would take its toll on him and lead a to a mid-season slump. I felt that a .920-or-higher save percentage wasn’t too likely by season’s end. Early on, he’s fighting to prove me wrong, posting a pretty stellar .924 save percentage and a goals-against average of 2.19, especially given the support he’s had thus far.

Right now, it isn’t that lacking defensive corps that’s holding the team back. Rather, it’s the entire team.

Even disregarding the stats, Bryz has been outstanding early on, making clutch saves and bailing his teammates out.

Anyone who wants to argue that… well, just don’t, because adding the stats in only adds to the case for Bryz. In the two games the Flyers have won, he’s let up one goal in each and had a .960 save percentage. On the surface, this is a slightly misleading, as one of those was a 7-1 drubbing of the Florida Panthers (witnessed by about 5,000 South Florida residents). Still, looking at the game tape and the numbers (30 saves on 31 shots), he was a factor in helping the Flyers keep that lead early on. Through six games started, Bryz has let up two goals or less in four of them and is 2-2 in those four.

In games that Bryz has let up any more than one goal, the Flyers record plummets to 0-4. In these games, he’s posted a .908 save percentage and a 2.79 GAA. This includes the debacle against the Devils and the defensive disaster against the Sabres. No, he hasn’t been completely flawless technically, as Kevin discussed last week in looking at the Thomas Vanek breakaway goal (operative word being breakaway), but requiring a sub-1.50 GAA on a team that’s half-AHL, half-NHL means your goalie has to be superhuman. It’s not feasible, especially when you’re struggling to handle line changes and clearing the zone (hello, Nick Grossmann, Andreas Lilja, et al).

Look at the Sabres and Devils games: Broken defensive coverage and chasing the puck abounded, as well as an inability to transition out of the defensive zone. These issues will lead to goals against. No goalie, not even Henrik Lundqvist, will make those saves every time. If you expect that, you’ll be disappointed by every goalie ever.

Given all of the above, and more, I’d argue that Bryz has really been the only bright spot on the team this year aside from Danny Briere’s return and Kimmo Timonen’s apparent eternal youth. This past week, he’s posted a 2-1 record, .949 sv% and a 1.35 GAA. Chew on that for a second. The Flyers have looked abysmally bad at times, and they’re still 2-1 in our favorite Cosmonaut’s last three games. If they had any jam, they’d have won last night, too. The only goal I really see value in looking at for Bryz is Michael Del Zotto’s sneaky shot that put the Rangers up 1-0 early in the game on Tuesday.

At full speed, this goal looks somewhat bad. Quick release on the ice and it finds a way in low corner. Thanks to the miracle of 14 different camera angles, however, this puck’s sojourn to the back of the net becomes a little more understandable.

It starts with a blind pass from the boards by Rangers forward Brian Boyle to teammate Benn Ferriero (I can’t think of any other explanation for that turnover…). Ferriero quickly finds Del Zotto at the point, who releases a quick, low, hard slapper. The traffic in front effectively makes this a screen board drill, which any goalie will tell you is a pain in the ass when the shots are even half-speed. See the description and picture of prop 1 in goalie coach legend Mitch Korn’s writeup below for a better understanding.

These shots are potentially stoppable if they’re at the goalie’s feet, but if the shot’s taken well like Del Zotto’s was, it’s highly likely that it’ll find a way through. Looking at the angle provided at the 49-second mark, this was as well-hidden as a shot’s going to realistically get from the point:

Outside of this one, the goals scored on Ilya this week were just good goals scored due to bad defense or a nice shot. His stats reflect that he had a hell of a good run over the past three games, despite the loss yesterday. I have no problem giving Bryz an A+ across the board over the past few games. His movement’s been tight and efficient, he’s up on his toes and he’s really doing some work to control and corral his rebounds.

Of course, Bryzgalov didn’t play all of the Flyers’ games this week. Michael Leighton happened to be in net for one of them on Sunday: a 5-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Fortunately, this game provided enough goaltending fodder to keep me busy for the rest of the article, as Leighton made both some egregious and some nuanced mistakes, most of which were worth discussing.

The first goal was a nice play by the Bolts to move east-west and open up some net real estate on the PP. Steven Stamkos, in particular, made a nice play to set up Purcell.

Goal #2 was not so excusable for Leights, as it was a long, somewhat slow-looking shot from the point by Eric Brewer that beat him. The key issue for me here was he did not get proper depth and he looked off-angle, as he set up shop deep in the paint and never telescoped out to the shot.

The third Tampa Bay goal was a nice short side one-time snipe by Vinny Lecavalier.

Incredibly and remarkably unexpectedly, this was another power play goal against. There were two keys, in my mind, for why this beat Leighton. First, Martin St. Louis draws everyone to the left wing and then slips a no-look pass to Lecavalier, who’s down low on the right wing side. Just in reading that, you should expect a dangerous chance. Second, and perhaps more subtly, is that Leights is just a little rusty for the NHL game. Remember, he didn’t play over the lockout. While he did a good job of tracking the puck, he just didn’t get there quickly enough to make the stop (you could argue he did so somewhat lazily), and you can read the frustration on him after it goes in.

Goal #4 is where I got really mad. This was a breakdown on multiple levels for the Flyers and Leighton. It starts with an odd-man rush. Hall takes a soft backhand from down low on the left wing. Leights makes a lazy stop and leaves the puck right in the slot that Victor Hedman hammers home. I’ve discussed these killer rebounds before, and I don’t think I could find a better example of what not to do. Yes, Captain Claude was coasting on the backcheck. That’s inexcusable. Still, our netminder has to recognize what’s going on and handle the rebound by putting it below the goal line or at least getting some air underneath it. Letting it hit you is as inexcusable as Giroux’s soft attempt to get back.

The final Tampa taly was just twisting the knife. Another PP goal against. Leighton goes paddle down on the goal line. He gets beat low blocker side (somehow), albeit on a redirect. I don’t really want to even talk about this one, but I will say that Leights needs to recognize the situation, better prioritize down low coverage and challenge the shooter by attacking the puck more on an attempt like this. He also needs to extract his rear end from the goal line. He’s not as quick as a Felix Potvin in his heyday.

Here’s a much better view of the goal.

Overall, I give Leighton a C+, because it is remarkably hard to jump back into game speed, no matter how much you’re practicing. Were this his fourth or fifth start, it’d be a solid D+, as the backup has the difficult role of being game-ready for a single start once every two or more weeks.

And, with that, this week’s installment of Crashing the Crease wraps up. Major credit to Bryzgalov, who has been everything the Flyers could’ve asked for and more. Condolences and a slight hat tip to Leighton, who had a rough first outing, but was professional enough to not externalize the blame for his play. Finally, jeers to the Flyers in general for some lackadaisical and uninspired efforts. Also, please, no more Lilja. Jakub Voracek’s seemingly got the defensive-zone turnovers covered.

Teammates congratulate Bryz after a 30-save, 7-1 win against the Florida Panthers – Image courtesy of Joel Auerbach/Getty Images North America