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Inside the Flyers: Expect Bryzgalov to adjust and settle in and raise his play

The Flyers want goalie Ilya Bryzgalov to perform like Martin Brodeur, not Martin Lawrence. Like Jimmy Howard, not Jimmy Fallon. Like Jonathan Quick, not Jonathan Winters.

Ilya Bryzgalov struggled throughout his first season as the Flyers goaltender. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
Ilya Bryzgalov struggled throughout his first season as the Flyers goaltender. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)Read more

The Flyers want goalie Ilya Bryzgalov to perform like Martin Brodeur, not Martin Lawrence. Like Jimmy Howard, not Jimmy Fallon. Like Jonathan Quick, not Jonathan Winters.

That was the gist of a comment made by general manager Paul Holmgren the other day.

"His job is to stop pucks and help us win games," Holmgren said. "It's not Comedy Central."

Holmgren's tone was good-natured, and he was not being critical of Bryzgalov. Fact is, he enjoys the goalie's different outlook on things.

Would he like to see Bryzgalov spend less time on his comedy routine?

"There is probably a middle-of-the-road scenario somewhere there," Holmgren said. "He's a funny guy to talk to, there's no question about that. He has some interesting concepts of life and how to walk down the road of life."

Bryzgalov's first season in Philly was Bryzarro. The 31-year-old goalie finished with decent numbers - a 33-16-7 record, six shutouts, a 2.48 goals-against average, and a .909 save percentage. But it was a strange journey that included lots of inconsistency. In the playoffs, where the goalie was affected by injuries that slowed down or sidelined defensemen Nick Grossmann and Kimmo Timonen, he had a 3.46 goals-against average and .887 save percentage.

"Did he play as good as expected this year? I would say no," Holmgren said. "I said this before about players coming from different organizations and signing big-money deals with new teams: There is an adjustment period."

Bryzgalov went from being "lost in the woods" in late October to putting together the NHL's second-longest scoreless streak (249 minutes, 43 seconds) since expansion in 1967-68, to allowing a blooper of a goal Tuesday that will live in Flyers playoff infamy.

The 6-foot-3 Russian, however, was one of the few Flyers who played well in the five-game loss to New Jersey in the conference semifinals.

In an ironic twist, Bryzgalov, the man who spent most of the season filling notebooks with his colorful views of the universe, threw a shutout at reporters Thursday, declining to talk during what the Flyers called their postseason media day at their Voorhees practice facility.

Turns out he had already spilled his guts to a Russian newspaper.

The CliffsNotes version of his comments: The media and fans are picking on me, but I will survive!

Maybe, but it seems he is making things too hard for himself. You shouldn't have to "find peace in my soul to play in this city," as he said at one point this season.

My unsolicited advice: Enjoy the fans' passion and use it as a motivator, not as an albatross. Enjoy being a famous athlete whom the fans want to adore. (Witness the "Bryz-Bryz-Bryz" chants in Game 2 of the Devils series.)

Become less sensitive to the criticism - little of it has come from this space, which suggested during his struggles that he would return to his Phoenix form - and more focused on his task at hand.

I find Bryzgalov to be one of the most interesting personalities I have covered in my nearly four decades in the newspaper business. (I started very young!) He is engaging and witty, and he can talk about subjects that range from the Russian space program to early American history.

OK, he can be off the wall, but that just makes him more intriguing, more fun to be around. You never know what he's going to say. He is a deep thinker, but also is wickedly funny in a dry way. When coach Peter Laviolette benched him for the Winter Classic, Bryzgalov responded by telling the media he would enjoy the game with some "nice tea" on the bench. He then went home and tweeted a photo of the thermos.

It was his way of making fun of what, for him, was a deeply embarrassing benching. To his credit, he diffused it with humor.

Somewhere down the road, Bryzgalov lost his sense of humor. He was furious when Comcast SportsNet ran a hysterical photo recently with Bryzgalov's face superimposed in a space suit (with a Flyers patch on a sleeve) as he floated through the air. This was after Bryzgalov had said he would have been an astronaut if he wasn't a goalie.

I'm guessing that's what triggered his rant to the Russian newspaper. That, and perhaps the way his gift goal in Game 5 was portrayed in the media.

The Flyers need Bryzgalov to get his head together over the summer, to come to camp in September with a new outlook.

Bryzgalov deserves the benefit of the doubt. Some of his comments can be misinterpreted because of the language barrier. In addition, he was used to playing in a Phoenix market that didn't even send reporters to road games, and he was not prepared for the media or fan scrutiny that comes with playing in hockey-crazed Philadelphia.

He also felt the weight of his $51 million, nine-year contract and put extra pressure on himself to show the deal was justified.

"It's totally normal," said center Danny Briere, who can relate.

Briere struggled in parts of his first Flyers season after signing an eight-year, $52 million deal in the summer of 2007.

"There's no doubt in my mind it's going to be easier for him now that he's settled in, now that he knows the system and knows his teammates," Briere said. "He knows how it works, and the Philly fans. . . . I went through it myself my first year. It was a tough, trying year. You learn from that. Bryz is a smart guy and it's going to make him a better player moving forward. He'll be better prepared for what's coming at him."

If not, he can always find work at a Center City comedy club because the guy's deadpan delivery is off the charts.

Inside the Flyers: Was Bryzgalov an Upgrade?

How did Ilya Bryzgalov compare with Flyers goalies over the last 10 seasons? He tied for the most wins in a season over the last decade, was fourth in goals-against average, and seventh in save percentage. Here are the numbers on Flyers goalies who played the most games in each of the last 10 seasons:

Year   Goalie   GP   Record      GAA   Save%

2001-02    Roman Cechmanek    46    24-13-6    2.05    .921

2002-03    Roman Cechmanek    58    33-15-10    1.83    .925

2003-04    Robert Esche    40    21-11-7    2.04    .915

2004-05   Lockout

2005-06    Antero Niittymaki    46    23-15-6   2.97   .895

2006-07    Antero Niittymaki    52    9-29-9    3.38    .894

2007-08    Marty Biron    62    30-20-9    2.59    .918

2008-09    Marty Biron    55    29-19-5    2.76    .915

2009-10    Brian Boucher    33    9-18-3    2.76    .899

2010-11    Sergei Bobrovsky    54    28-13-8    2.59   .915

2011-12    Ilya Bryzgalov   59    33-16-7   2.48    .909

- Sam CarchidiEndText