In defense of Ilya Bryzgalov

There isn’t a hotter topic in the Philadelphia hockey world than that of Russian netminder and apparent philosopher, Ilya Bryzgalov.

Bryzgalov, 31, was signed this past offseason to a “humongous” deal, to the tune of nine years and $51 million.  A former second round pick by the Anaheim Ducks, Bryzgalov had been a stellar goaltender throughout his first five seasons, posting save percentages of .907, .920, .906, .920, and .921, respectively, for the Ducks and the Phoenix Coyotes.

Those numbers were plenty good to compel a franchise that hadn’t had a consistent presence in net since the late 1980’s to acquire the veteran goalie, who was brought in to do one thing: win the Stanley Cup.

We know that Bryzgalov is a stellar goalie, regardless of what many fans and writers on the internet would like you to believe.  Is he Tim Thomas or Henrik Lundqvist?  No, but he’s not that far below that upper echelon of goalies, either.  He’s certainly a (very expensive) step up from a combination of a Brian Boucher, Michael Leighton, and Sergei Bobrovsky goalie carousel.

This year, however, Bryz has not been the $51 million presence between the pipes that everyone hoped would lead this Flyers team to their first Cup in more than three decades.

Through his first four games of the season, Bryzgalov posted a very nice .927 save percentage, including a shutout in the second game of the season, which happened to be one more shutout than the Flyers posted all of last season.

If Bryzgalov was brilliant in his first four games, he was the polar opposite in the next four, posting an .802 save percentage.  The roller coaster was rolling, with Bryz posting a .944 save percentage over his next six games.  While he seemed to be back on track after a rough patch, his play said otherwise.  Over the next 16 games, Bryzgalov saved just 392 of 444 shots, for a paltry .883 save percentage.

Through January 17th, Ilya Bryzgalov has posted an .893 save percentage, spanning 30 games and allowing 3.07 goals against per game, hardly the numbers of the elite netminder the Flyers had hoped for.

While looking at the numbers, it seems pretty obvious that Bryzgalov has been incredibly up and down, and wildly inconsistent overall.  When he has a rough game, it’s usually followed up by several more rough games before the ship is righted, and it seems that he then strings together a couple good games again.

Did Ilya Bryzgalov leave Phoenix for Philly and forget how to play hockey during the plane ride across the country?  Of course he didn’t.  The season may be half over, but we have to remember that the 30 game sample we have on Bryzgalov thus far is still a relatively small sample size in the grand scheme of things.  30 games is a fair number of games, but when judging a player, it’s still such a small number.

The Flyers signed Bryzgalov for nine years with an estimated 60 to 70 starts per season.  30 games are simply not enough to judge a player on.  If Bryzgalov indeed does spend the next nine years between the pipes in orange and black, these first 30 games will be roughly five percent of his career in Philadelphia.  Five percent.  Is that really enough of a sample to write him off?

Relax and stop rooting against the guy because you don’t like the contract Ed Snider and the Flyers brass handed him.  Before you write Bryzgalov off, give him a fair shake.

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