After a month and a half without back-to-back wins, the Flyers have won five of their last six, including three shutouts in a row by Ilya Bryzgalov, bringing his total to six on the season. Mr. Universe, who was once lost in the woods, seems to have gained control of his game, and silenced the nay-sayers.
After a tough start to the season, that saw the Russian netminder play to a less than .900 save percentage and a greater than 3.00 goals against average, Bryzgalov earned the boos from the fans, and lost the start for this season’s Winter Classic.
The former Phoenix star went into the All Star break in need of a rest to re-gather his game. Afterwards, he looked poised to get back on the winning track before the flu slowed him down.
Since his recovery, he’s put on a show, by stopping shot after shot allowing only five-goals in his last six starts.
One change that can’t be overlooked has been the pick-up of the two big defensemen, Nicklas Grossmann and Pavel Kubina. The two have added an incredible amount of grit in front of the Russian goaltender, reducing the number of shots fired his way, along with clearing the porch to allow Bryzgalov to see more pucks.
In Tuesday night’s 3-0 win over the Devils, Flyers coach Peter Laviolette commented that the team played a full 60-minute game with everyone working hard, in front of a sharp goaltender.
Bryzgalov was definitely the difference, even turning away shots in the third period without his own stick, having to borrow one from a defenseman. He was the best penalty killer on a four-minute double major to Grossmann, and he looked calm and confident whenever the puck was near.
On the season so far, Grossmann has 128 blocked shots and 133 hits in 64 games played. He’s a towering force on defense, who can smother the opposition’s best forwards. His game is not the best when he has the puck on his stick, but without it, he keeps the front of the net clean, and gives Bryzgalov a chance to stop the puck.
Recently, 27-year-old defenseman Braydon Coburn has been paired with Grossmann to form a formidable shut-down pair. The two were both a plus-two on the night with a combined eight-hits and five-blocked shots. Coburn to this point, had been paired with All Star Kimmo Timonen, but because of injuries, the pairings have been changed, and Timonen is now paired with puck-moving defenseman Matt Carle.
One part of the Flyer’s game that showed incredible improvement, was the penalty kill. In Tuesday’s affair, they killed all five penalties they received, including a double minor to Grossmann, in which the Devils never established any pressure.
The sell-out crowd at the Wells Fargo Center displayed their praise to the team’s play, cheering for late game blocked shots, clears and stops by Bryzgalov.
Sunday night in New Jersey, the Flyers were drastically outshot 31-19, and although backup goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who got the start, was able to keep the team in the game early, he wasn’t able to steal the win, as the Flyers failed to get any pressure, and had several defensive break-downs, which led to a disappointing 4-1 loss.
The Flyers put on a clinic against the Devils in the second of a back-to-back meeting. It took them more than half the game to get on the board, but for most of the game, they dominated all three zones of the ice.
This convincing 3-0 win, was the polar opposite of Sunday’s disaster. The team moved quick to battle for pucks, took advantage of the scoring chances they had, and dominated the face-off circle with a 58% success rating. Claude Giroux was the best of the night at the face-off dot, going 10-3. This was in drastic contrast to a few games ago when it was rumored he was suffering from a wrist injury that kept him to only two face-offs, and zero wins, against the Red Wings on March 6.
The Flyers are playing with purpose now, and it looks like their mid-season slump, as well as their struggles in goal, are over. They have a young team and still a few question marks, but things are looking up, and hopefully the latest results bode well for the post-season.