Originally posted on NHL Hot Stove  |  Last updated 11/18/11

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 18: Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov #30 of the Phoenix Coyotes is introduced before the NHL game against the Buffalo Sabres at Jobing.com Arena on January 18, 2010 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

By David Strehle
NHL Hot Stove Managing Editor

November 18th had to be circled on Ilya Bryzgalov’s calendar, the day he would first face his former team since signing with the Philadelphia Flyers after the pending UFA’s negotiating rights were acquired by Paul Holmgren in the offseason.

Ilya Bryzgalov celebrates last night's 2-1 victory over former team with offensive hero Matt Read. (Photo credit: Paul Bereswill / Getty Images)

After all, the Phoenix Coyotes gave Bryzgalov his first real chance to become a number one goalie in the National Hockey League.  And it was one in which he made the most of during his four year tour in the desert.

Bryzgalov had a record of 130-93-27 with 21 shutouts  during that time, including 78-40-16 and 15 shutouts over the last two seasons alone.

He was a Vezina Trophy-finalist in 2009-10 when he won 42 contests and posted eight shutouts, and led the ‘Yotes to the postseason in each of the last two years.  While his 2009-10 and 2010-11 campaigns rank as the top two best years ever had by a goaltender since the franchise moved to Phoenix, all four of his seasons rank in the top-nine in Coyotes history.  The only others in the top-nine are Nikolai Khabibulin, Curtis Joseph, and Sean Burke.

Along with captain Coyote, Shane Doan, Bryzgalov undeniably became one of the most recognizable faces of the franchise in the process.

This year, Bryzgalov has been replaced in the Phoenix crease by Tampa Bay Lightning-castoff Mike Smith, who heading into last night’s game had an 8-2-3 record, with a sparkling 2.19 goals-against average and .933 save percentage.  After beginning the year with a 1-2-1 mark Smith had been red-hot, posting a 7-0-2 record in his last nine starts prior to Thursday’s action.

There was a bit of trash talk yesterday, too.  Via SB Nation’s Broad Street Hockey, Phoenix defenseman Derek Morris was quoted as saying this to Coyotes announcer Todd Walsh regarding the Coyotes’ game plan for the evening:

“First of all, we have to throw a lot of pucks at Bryz.  He’s known for letting in bad goals, you know, so I think our mindset is going to be get the puck down behind the net, and hopefully he comes out and plays a few because he doesn’t like to do that.”

‘Bryz if known for letting in bad goals.’  Wow.  If that wasn’t bad enough, Morris added this gem when asked about Bryzgalov leaving sunny Arizona this past summer:

“We’re actually glad.  First of all I’m glad he’s gone, because the guy we brought in (Smith) has done a great job and fit in real well, made our team even closer.  There was some animosity there with Bryz sometimes.  We don’t have that with him (Smith), so we have a good group and we’re winning games because of it.”

There was ‘animosity between some on the team and Bryzgalov at times’?  We haven’t heard anything like that going on here since Bryzgalov’s arrival in June.  By all reports, he has been the perfect teammate.

To a man, everyone associated with the Flyers organization said they had not heard Morris’ comments, or those given by Adrian Aucoin.

“No, I always thought good about these guys,” Bryzgalov said when asked about the remarks after the game.  “They are good defenseman and good guys.  I don’t hear anything.  Every person in our life has an opinion about everyone, and we can’t pay attention to it.  If he thinks that, I can’t change his mind.”

“Who doesn’t give up bad goals?” Bryzgalov asked rhetorically.  ”Who doesn’t make mistakes?  We’re all only human.”

“No, I didn’t hear what they said, first of all,” the goaltender said after being pressed a second time on the issue.  ”Second of all, I don’t know how to say this.  You can’t be nice to the whole world.  Some people hate you, some people like you, some people love, some people it’s just normal.  It’s just life.”

Bryzgalov ended his commentary by taking the high road, offering these wishes for his ex-teammates. 

“I hope they continue to play well.”

Enough said.

Bryzgalov was huge in the thrilling 2-1 Flyers’ win last night.  Included in his 30 saves was a glove stop on leading Phoenix scorer Ray Whitney on a breakaway.

The Russian-native is now 8-4-2 on the season, and is a sizzling 5-0-1 in his last six starts.  After a few shaky outings and some early season bad bounces, the goalie is showing exactly the type of play that Peter Laviolette expected all along.

“I didn’t expect much tonight, didn’t expect anything different from what he did tonight,” the coach said in his post-game press conference.  ”He was solid and gave us an opportunity to win.  We had to fight.  It took a long time, it took 59 plus minutes to finally get the lead to finish this game, but he was solid like he has been for the last two weeks for us in giving us an opportunity to win games.”

Matt Read, who scored the game-winning goal with just 18.6 seconds remaining in regulation, said the team felt it was important to get Bryzgalov the victory.   In doing so, Read helped Bryzgalov serve up some just desserts for his ex-teammates that tried a bit of gamesmanship early in the day.

“It was his former team, and he wanted this win so much,” the rookie said.  ”So, the boys wanted to play a good game for him.  He deserves to beat his old team.”

Holmgren, who came out to address the issue of Jaromir Jagr’s injury with the media following the game, made it perfectly clear how he felt about the Phoenix players taking shots at his goaltender earlier in the day.

“We love Bryz,” the GM said.  ”He’s a huge part of this team, and a great person.  Whatever other people say, who cares?”

If you have any comments or questions, you can email the author at dstrehle@nhlhotstove.com.  You can also follow him on Twitter – @David_Strehle


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