ILYA BRYZGALOV tried to play it cool, knowing his former teammates already had invaded Philadelphia for tonight's game.
"Game No. 18 tomorrow," Bryzgalov said. "That's it."
Bryzgalov was, of course, joking about the Flyers' matchup with the Coyotes at the Wells Fargo Center - the team with whom "Bryz" went from "breeze'' to "beast" in four short seasons, earning him a $51 million contract last summer.
"The Phoenix Coyotes. The other side. You're in a different jersey," Bryzgalov said. "Ah, I don't know. It's special. It's my former team. I have lots of friends. I can't forget the time I played there. It's going to be a very special game. It was good years."
Both sides seem to be moving on just fine.
Behind reborn replacement Mike Smith, the surprising Coyotes have jumped out to a 9-4-3 start and trail Dallas by just one point in the Pacific Division, despite the fact that many picked Phoenix to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
"I'm glad they're doing well without me," Bryzgalov said.
Bryzgalov is beginning to find his own stride. After opening the season with a 3-4-1 mark and a disappointing .870 save percentage, Bryzgalov has rebounded to stop nearly 94 percent of his shots faced and has reeled off a 4-0-1 record.
Which Bryzgalov will we see tonight?
"I can't explain it," coach Peter Laviolette said of the difference in Bryzgalov. "He's not working any harder in practice. He always works hard in practice. I'm not making any excuses . . . There were a lot of things that happened in [that] 2-3 week period, some tough redirects and some tough bounces."
Generally, it's easy for players to find motivation when facing their former team. But there also can be danger in getting overhyped.
"I had a tough time," Jaromir Jagr recalled about facing the Penguins for the first time when he signed with the Capitals. "Some guys have great games, some guys have bad games. I'm a guy who had a bad game. I was awful. We lost, 5-1. And I was a minus-4."
Laviolette said Bryzgalov "doesn't seem to be the type who gets nervous."
In fact, Bryzgalov seems to be at his best when he is focused and excited to play, as we saw in the opening week of the season, when he beat the Bruins in Boston on the night they raised their Stanley Cup banner and then shut out the Devils.
Questions were raised in Phoenix about Bryzgalov's focus during his tenure with the Coyotes, according to an Oct. 16 report in the Arizona Republic. Bryzgalov reportedly was caught off-guard about a possible Coyotes move to Winnipeg just hours before Phoenix' first playoff game last April.
"He walked in the coaches' dressing room about 2 1/2 [hours] before the first playoff game and said, 'What's up, coach? We moving?' and that turned into a big distraction," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett was quoted by the newspaper.
Bryzgalov was swatted out of the office by Tippett, telling him, "Bryz, think about the game."
Bryzgalov was shellacked in the first round, saving just 87.9 percent of shots faced with a 4.36 goals-against average as the Coyotes were promptly swept by Detroit.
Ironically, it was Bryzgalov - and not the Coyotes - who ended up packing for "greener'' pastures, as it was the Atlanta franchise that moved to Winnipeg. Unquestionably, Bryzgalov will have a lot on his mind tonight.
"I will never forget," Bryzgalov said. "I just want to say thank you, the whole Phoenix Coyotes organization. My teammates who played with me for years, I had a great time, great 4 years. They will always be in my heart."
Forward Brayden Schenn skated with the Flyers yesterday for the first time since fracturing his left foot on Oct. 26 when he blocked a shot against Montreal.
Schenn probably has about another week of skating - and a week to complete his original, 4-week timeline as set by doctors - before he could return to the lineup. He is also on the long-term injured reserve and the Flyers would need to clear roster and cap space for him to return.
Schenn has skated alone for 3 days, wearing a protective boot on his skates to prevent further injury.
"[I feel] pretty good," Schenn said. "The main goal is to get better day by day. Hopefully, tomorrow it feels better."
Schenn, 20, has appeared in just four games. He has no points and a minus-5 rating after starting the season in AHL Adirondack.
"It's not the start I was looking for," Schenn said. "I know there is a lot of hockey to be played, a lot of games. I obviously hit some rough patches off the start, but I think I can contribute to this team."
The Flyers are only 4-3-2 at home. "We haven't been very good at home," Jaromir Jagr said. "We've felt really comfortable playing on the road" . . . The Flyers are 11-8-1 all-time against Phoenix. They are 0-1-1 since their last win against the Coyotes on Nov. 22, 2008.
read Frank Seravalli's blog, Frequent Flyers, at
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