Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Start the #FreeBob Movement: Ilya Bryzgalov Sucks Even When He Plays Well

A couple of weeks ago, I acknowledged that high-priced free-agent signing Ilya Bryzgalov stinks this season, but admitted that I still kind of liked him. Those sentiments, however, went right the hell out out the window on Sunday, as Bryzgalov let in two absolutely horrendous, back-breaking goals in a 5-2 loss to the conference-leading Rangers.

The first was an unfathomable goal by Marian Gaborik with 5 seconds remaining in the 2nd period. Gaborik was tightly marked by Andrej Meszaros coming off the boards behind the net, so he just sort of flicked a backhand toward the net. It was not a hard or particularly good shot, and Bryzgalov was pretty much in position. Yet he let it somehow slip by him to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead heading into the third period, an absolute killer — falling behind to a great defensive team with the best goaltender in the NHL.

I don't care if you're making $51 million or $50, if you're a goalie, you have to make that save. Have to. Especially when you're playing the team ahead of you in the standings, a team that just so happens to be nearly impossible to beat in comeback fashion.

Still, the Flyers didn't let that horrendous goal in the waning seconds of the period derail them. They came out aggressive to start the third and tied it up on Wayne Simmonds second goal of the game just 57 seconds in. That's when Bryzgalov went from bad to worse.

Just when you thought he couldn't have possibly done anything more crippling than letting up a soft goal with just 5 seconds remaining in a period, he goes and gives up just as soft of a goal just 36 seconds after his teammates tied it to fall behind yet again.

That was the nail in Philadelphia's coffin. Two god-awful goals against one of the best defensive hockey teams in the league with a truly elite goaltender. It didn't help that Matt Carle had a horrendous turnover that led to a fourth goal against Bryz, but the play of his teammates only explains so much. This loss was as much on Bryz as it was anyone else.

Sure, the Flyers got outmanned and outplayed in the first period, but after they recovered, Bryz let them down. It's something that's become commonplace for this team all season long.

I tried my best to remain patient and give Bryzgalov the benefit of the doubt. I mean, he does get left hung out to dry by his defensemen more than he should, especially with names like Timonen, Meszaros, Coburn and Carle in front of him, and he has had an abnormal amount of deflections go by him, but at some point those become nothing more than excuses. At the end of the day, Bryz's job is to stop the puck, and this season he simply hasn't been doing that enough. Frankly, I'm tired of it, and everyone should be. This isn't what the Flyers or anyone else expected when they shelled out 9 years and $51 million, but that's what they've gotten — a high-priced bum.

Now, I will concede that Bryz played well last night against the Islanders. I mean, how can you even say otherwise? He had a 65-minute shutout. Problem was, his counterpart made 40-plus saves to match him, bringing the game to the dreaded shootout. And if you think Bryzgalov has struggled during games, I'm not even sure what you can call his play in shootouts.

Honestly, he's the worst goaltender I've ever seen in the shootout format. Not only does he get beat, he gets beat badly — to the point where you don't think he even stands a chance to stop the puck. Last night, he didn't, getting completely undressed by the two shooters he faced while Evgeni Nabakov was flawless. It's embarrassing watching a so-called "elite goalie," at least before this season, look so laughably bad. Watching him get schooled yet again in the shootout led me to make the comment, "Even when Bryz plays awesome, he still sucks." That's how I feel about the guy right now.

And while the shootout is meaningless come playoff time, contrary to what Matt P. over at The700Level, who I respect greatly, says shootouts do still matter, especially in a tight Eastern Conference race in which every point matters. Bryz looks so lost in net during the shootout that, yes, I do think a completely cold Sergei Bobrovsky is a far superior option than even a Ilya Bryzgalov who just pitched a shutout for 65 minutes. That's how horrendous he is at the skills competition.

It isn't early in the season anymore. The Flyers already have 53 games under their belt, just 29 more to go. Through the first 53, Sergei Bobrovsky has far outplayed Bryzgalov, and it's starting to reach the point where Bryz may be forcing Peter Laviolette's hand. In my estimation, Bryzgalov only has another week or two to round into form, otherwise it's officially time to free Bob. Hell, that time may have already come. Given Bryzgalov's play this year, there's little reason to believe he'll turn it around anytime soon.

There's still time for him to right himself, and I hope he does. But it's quickly running out. And in my opinion, the Flyers shouldn't wait any longer. Bryzgalov has been unfortunate at best, a bust at worst, and all the while, Sergei Bobrovsky has been waiting in the wings and playing at the level we all thought Bryzgalov would when he put on the Orange and Black.


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