Originally posted on Philly Sports World  |  Last updated 3/11/12

No one can deny how well Ilya Bryzgalov has played for the Philadelphia Flyers as of late. After months of waiting for Bryz to play like the goalie he was expected to be, he has finally stepped up. With 3 shutouts in his last 4 games, and 5 straight wins, it appears the ship is righting itself. But is it possible that some of the bumps Bryzgalov has sustained along the way could have long lasting implications?

The problem with Bryzgalov’s confidence can be traced back to the month of December when the lights of HBO’s 24/7 shined on the Flyers. After the first episode of the show featured Bryzgalov waxing philosophically about the universe, his celebrity skyrocketed overnight. His play began to deteriorate and became inconsistent, and the next thing you know, he was benched for the biggest regular season game of the year, the Winter Classic.

From there, things really seemed to spiral out of control for the Flyers and their goalie. After making the self deprecating announcement that he would be benched for the Winter Classic before Peter Laviolette had made the announcement to the press, he went home and tweeted a picture of a thermos that he claimed would contain tea that he would enjoy from the bench.

A rampage of comments would follow, including allegedly telling a fan at the Flyers Wives Carnival that fans in Philly care too much and saying that he enjoyed Winnipeg fans chanting his name in mockery because it was better than getting booed in Philly. It culminated a few weeks ago with Bryz saying he needed to find the peace within his soul to play in this city.

Since then, and a reported meeting with the Flyers leadership group, Bryz has calmed it down. He is no longer the quirky goalie who always has something interesting to say whether it’s at the expense of the team or not. He has, in fact, been very withdrawn. He doesn’t talk about his performance at all, and instead, focuses all questions on the team. According to teammate Danny Briere, Bryzgalov has been a great teammate since that conversation with team leaders.

His performance on the ice has certainly showed that Bryzgalov is re-focused. The problem is that there seems to be something just under the surface with him. It’s as if he feels censored. Like he’s not being his true self. And, as a friend recently astutely pointed out, it’s as if Bryzgalov is resentful of how he has to conduct himself.

In the short term, Bryz has been the hottest goalie in the NHL. The fans seem to be rallying around him now instead of booing him. When it was pointed out to him after he shut out the Florida Panthers that the fans were chanting his name in support, he noted that the fans went from hating him to loving him and that it could easily go back the other way. In other words, he didn’t seem to embrace the support, though he did say that it was kind of them to support him. It almost seemed sarcastic when he said it.

To some degree, it leaves you feeling sorry for the man. He has come to a Cup starved fan base under the weight of enormous expectations. He has been booed by his home town fans, struggled to find his game, and has possibly been asked to not be himself. Has Philadelphia alienated its start goaltender?

I hope for his sake, that I’m misreading the situation. Maybe Bryzgalov is just so focused on his game right now that he doesn’t have time for the distractions of the media and being a good quote. Maybe he really didn’t hear the fans chanting his name in support and maybe he meant it when he said it was kind.

If there is something more going on underneath the surface, it could be a matter of time before something blows up. And that could be a really bad thing somewhere down the line for the Flyers. Especially when you factor in that this is still the first year in a 9 year deal.

As it stands, the Flyers are a completely different team now that Bryz has found his game. It actually looks like a different team skating on the ice and Bryz looks like his old self. He plays with confidence and an aggressiveness that he hadn’t displayed in some time. Right now, the Flyers appear poised for a Stanley Cup run.

That’s largely due to an enigmatic goaltender who has found his groove. Any damage that has been done could be reversed if Ilya Bryzgalov helps bring Lord Stanley’s Cup back to Philly.

Similar Posts:

  • Bob or Bryz? What the Flyers Need to Do
  • Laviolette Could Face Heat if Flyers Don’t Turn It Around
  • Bryzgalov and Flyers Getting Their Act Together at the Right Time?
  • Flyers Find Themselves in an All Too Familiar Spot
  • Playing from Behind Doesn’t Suit Flyers

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