Good-natured Ilya Bryzgalov, the talkative, talented goalie whose availability caused the Flyers to make offseason (roster) gyrations that would have made Lady Gaga proud, welcomes the high expectations.
But he also has words of caution for the fans who have been starving for a dominant netminder.
Speaking with a thick Russian accent - he sometimes struggles to find the right words, but his English is very good - Bryzgalov acknowledged he has heard himself being mentioned in the same sentence as Bernie Parent, Pelle Lindbergh and Ron Hextall. Those three are generally regarded as the only shutdown goalies in the Flyers' history.
Bryzgalov, 31, is eager to show he is one of the game's best goalies but warned that he alone cannot deliver a Stanley Cup.
"There are probably people who have long experience here watching hockey since the team was born," he said after practice the other day. "They probably have high standards of the goalies, and maybe those goalies" - Parent, Lindbergh and Hextall - "in the past spoiled the fan base and they expect the goalie has to win by himself. But in reality, I want to say maybe people will be disappointed. It's impossible - impossible - to [do]. I came here, and I can't promise the people that next summer we will celebrate the Stanley Cup. I don't want to lie. Yeah, the goalie is a big part and has to play well, but you have to get support from the team. The whole team has to play well to win the Stanley Cup."
Still, there is no question that the Flyers' latest blueprint emphasizes defense and goaltending.
After last year's Great Goalie Carousel - the Flyers tied a dubious NHL record by making seven in-game goaltender switches during the playoffs - the club's brass made Bryzgalov their No. 1 target.
Bryzgalov may be deflecting his impact, but he is the player whom this franchise is built around. After having his rights acquired from Phoenix for a minor-leaguer and two draft picks, the Flyers signed him to a nine-year $51 million deal.
"Just play well and give the team a chance to win every night. That's what a goalie should do," said Bryzgalov, a history buff whose helmet includes images of Philadelphia's iconic sites, along with the logo of the Russian hockey team, Lokomotiv, which perished in a plane crash last month. "Very talented team. Very nice team. Amazing group of guys. Everyone has their own personality, and I really like it here."
Bryzgalov will be backed up by Sergei Bobrovsky, who was sensational during the preseason.
"It's very exciting going into the season where there's no question mark there," veteran center Danny Briere said. "We know who they are and what they will give us. . . . It's a nice change."
Before signing, the 6-foot-3, 209-pound Bryzgalov got input from a former Flyer - and one of his ex-Phoenix teammates - about what it's like playing in Philadelphia.
"I talked to Scottie Upshall, and he said, 'You know, Bryz, it's a great city to play hockey in. It's unbelievable. The support of the fans is just tremendous, and this team is always competing for the Stanley Cup, and they do whatever they can for the players, whatever they need.' In return, we have to play hard. We have to play with open heart and - how you say it? - just give all of yourself to hockey."
Told that fans think he can be on the short list of Flyers goalie greats, Bryzgalov smiled.
"Everybody thinks like that? You haven't talked to people who say, 'Get him out of here?!' "
Bryzgalov, a Vezina Trophy finalist two years ago, laughed.
"Actually, yes I did [already]," he said.
After a so-so performance in his first exhibition game, Bryzgalov said he was walking down the street the next day and was razzed by a fan who apparently thought he played more like Ken Wregget than Bernie Parent.
Was the fan kidding?
"Who knows?" Bryzgalov said.
He was unfazed. Just like he is when a 95 m.p.h. slapshot is heading his way.
The Flyers defense, which is much stronger than the one Bryzgalov had in Phoenix, could help the goalie improve on his 2.48 goals-against average (which included seven shutouts) and .921 save percentage last year. He struggled (4.36 goals-against average, .879 save percentage) in a four-game postseason sweep by Detroit.
"I made some mistakes during that playoff," Bryzgalov said. "We are human beings and make mistakes, and we have to learn and move forward."