Down the long corridor that extends from Peter Laviolette's office at the Flyers Skate Zone, past the Flyers dressing room and by the training rooms, there is often a curtain that gets closed to prevent the wandering eyes of reporters.
Somewhere, out of sight, Sergei Bobrovsky is being re-tooled. You can almost imagine one of the training scenes with Ivan Drago in "Rocky IV" and picture Bobrovsky in his place.
But instead of training with Sergei Igor Rimsky, Drago's trainer in the movie, Bobrovsky has been working daily with Flyers goaltending coach Jeff Reese. After almost every practice for the last 2 weeks, Reese and Bobrovsky have spent extra time working on technique, position and puck handling. Last season, the little touches Reese added to Michael Leighton's game helped transform him from waiver-wire pickup to Stanley Cup finalist.
"It is absolutely a work in progress with 'Bob,' " Reese said. "He is an undrafted guy that just turned 22. He's mature beyond his years. He prepares like a pro. We're going to have our ups and downs with him. He's going to have good times and bad times. The important thing for him right now is to not get too high or too low."
It would be easy for Bobrovsky, who is expected to start tonight against Florida in the Flyers' last game before the holiday break, to get down on himself. Some of the reports after his last few starts have been incredulous.
You would have thought that Bobrovsky was 4-15-3 instead of 15-4-3 and had a 3.32 goals against-average instead of a 2.32.
Some have nitpicked Bobrovsky's record against winning teams (5-4-2) when compared to losing teams (10-0-1). Some have said Bobrovsky's weakness is apparent when teams ping the top corners. Others point to the fact that Bobrovsky, who started the season 11-2-1 and is 4-2-2 since, started the season as an unknown from Russia's Kontinental Hockey League and teams have now been able to develop a sophisticated "book" or scouting report against him.
"I bet you could say the same things about every goaltender in the league," Reese said. "Certainly, there's going to be tape on him and teams are going to be able to prepare for him now. But that works both ways. Now he has seen some shooters, he knows how they shoot, he knows their tendencies and their power plays.
"Almost every goalie goes down [on the ice]. I'd say 98 percent of the league, except [Martin] Brodeur, who stands up, goes down. Most guys go down and most players try to shoot high. I am sure teams are trying to shoot high on him. But teams are trying to shoot high on everyone around the league."
Bobrovsky has spent hours watching film of teams around the league. He has studied opposing goaltenders. And he has had a pretty good role model in veteran Brian Boucher, who has made Bobrovsky's tutoring with Reese an afforded luxury since Boucher has reeled off a 6-0-1 record with a 1.66 goals-against-average and .943 save percentage in his last seven starts.
"He's been very good for Bob," Reese said. "When he is on the bench, he is rooting for Bob. He is a constant professional in the way he works and prepares. Bob works hard, too, and he sees Boosh do it. Boosh has been trying to help him with little things like the shootout, and he gives him a pat on the back if he does something well. He will help him any way he can."
Neither Reese nor Boucher can communicate with Bobrovsky in his native tongue, which can be frustrating for a people-person like Reese. So far, the most revealing look behind Bob's mask has come by way of last week's Daily News Q & A that Bobrovsky did with a Russian journalist (http://ph.ly/bjz).
In a lifestyle business like professional sports, when you're around teammates, coaches and staff, relationships can make a big difference. Bobrovsky spends nearly all of his time at the rink but can barely communicate the necessities.
"It's getting better," Reese explained. "For the on-ice things that we need to do, he understands that part of it. I understand what he likes. It's a give-and-take. But it'd be nice to have conversations with him about his family or other parts of his life. That's the frustrating part. We can't go have dinner and get to know each other a little better."
The amount of rest Bobrovsky - who has never made more than 35 appearances in a season - has received after reeling off 12 straight starts can only make him better for the long haul. Being out of sight for a while, with Boucher stealing the show, has helped quell the pressure that was mounting in the Flyers' fan base.
"I know that there is more and more pressure coming to him but he is just focusing on hockey," Reese said. "As far as the expectations go, I'm not sure that he really understands at this point. He's just worried about going out and stopping the puck. He's still finding his way."
Less than halfway through Bobrovsky's rookie season, going from 12 consecutive starts to every other and from franchise savior to solid saver may not be such a bad thing.
"We're thrilled to death with him," Reese said. "There's no question that he's played very well. But we're trying to improve and get better in certain areas. Bob knows that he's going to have to earn his starts. If you see a guy like Boosh and the way he is playing right now, and you have another guy in [Leighton] that carried the team the Cup finals last year, you know that you have to earn your ice time. It should be interesting."
5: The last time the Flyers had a five-point lead on the rest of the NHL was Jan. 12, 1987, when they had 61 points and Edmonton had 56.
15 of 18: With five wins in a row, the Flyers have picked up 15 of a possible 18 points so far in the month of December. They are 10-1-3 in their last 14 games.
31: Nik Zherdev is on pace for 31 goals this season after helping the Flyers top the Rangers with two goals on Saturday, the ninth two-goal game of his career. Zherdev has four goals in his last three games.
The Week Ahead
Tonight, 7 o'clock
The road-weary Panthers, who have played seven of their last 10 games away from home, head into the Wells Fargo Center in last place in the Southeast Division. Florida plays solid defense (eighth in goals against per game, ninth-best penalty kill) but struggles to score. No player has double-digit goals for Florida - the Flyers have five (Mike Richards, Danny Briere, Claude Giroux, Nik Zherdev and Jeff Carter). The Panthers, who lost to the Flyers, 5-2, on Nov. 13, beat the Flyers three out of four times last season.
Dec. 21-Dec. 26
The Flyers will practice tomorrow for the last time until Dec. 26, when they travel to Vancouver to begin their West Coast swing on Dec. 28 that also includes stops in Los Angeles, Anaheim and Detroit on the way back. Players will be allowed to head to their hometowns to spend the holidays with their families. The holiday roster freeze went into effect yesterday and extends to Dec. 27. The Flyers will have a free Skills Competition tomorrow night at 5 o'clock at the Wells Fargo Center. You must sign up for tickets at www.philadelphiaflyers.com.
Don't look now, but the Phantoms have won two games in a row for the first time all season. On Friday, the Phantoms defeated defending AHL champion Hershey, 3-1, and topped the Abbotsford Heat, 2-1, on Saturday night. Rookie defenseman Erik Gustafsson leads the Phantoms in scoring with 25 points. Veteran Denis Hamel netted his 300th career AHL goal on Friday.