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Flyers lose Winter Classic: Is Ilya Bryzgalov partially to blame?

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This was supposed to be it.

After decades of the likes of Tommy Soderstrom, Dominic Roussel, John Vanbiesbrouck, Jeff Hackett (who retired mid-season!!), Roman Cechmanek, Sean Burke, Robert Esche, Marty Biron, Antero Niittymaki, Brian Boucher, Ray Emery, Michael Leighton  and a cast of others, the Flyers signed what many believed to be the missing link in their long quest to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup: a legitimate, consistent, proven number one goalie that the orange and black seemed to have lacked since Ron Hextall’s first go-round with the team.

Ilya Bryzgalov was going to be THAT guy. So much that the Flyers unloaded their team captain (Mike Richards) and leading goal scorer (Jeff Carter) to make room for his nine-year, $51 million dollar contract last summer (although there were most likely other reasons as well for those two trades).

Fast forward half a year later to the Winter Classic. Naturally, you would think that the Flyers’ brand new puck stopper would be netminding in the biggest game of the regular season with his custom made mask showcasing Philadelphia legends of years past. Right?

False

Instead, Bryzgalof was replaced by Sergei Bobrovsky. And just like that, the long-standing issue the Flyers thought they had solved has reared its ugly head again. What magnifies this situation even more is that the Flyers lost their second Winter Classic in three years, with Bobrovsky allowing a seemingly easy go-ahead goal.

Back to Bryzgalov. He has shown signs of brilliance, but after a game in late October, which saw the Flyers lose an absolute heart breaker to the Jets 9-8, Bryzgalov admitted that he had zero confidence in himself. He also went on to say "I'm terrible. I want to apologize to the fans and my teammates" and later added that he was “lost in the woods.”


I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right. This is the last thing you want to hear from a player who may arguably be the missing piece to a pretty big puzzle the Flyers have been trying to solve since 1975. There hasn’t been a more public display of a Philadelphia athlete letting his guard down since Curt Schilling admitted that he lost his confidence on the mound after getting shelled during the summer of the Phillies’ dream season of 1993. And as you may or may not recall, Darren Daulton was none too happy about Schilling’s comments.

After Bryzgalov suffered his fourth straight loss at the hands of the mediocre Tampa Bay Lightning last week, Peter Laviolette  had seen enough, and Bobrovsky was in net for the Flyers’ 4-2 win over the Penguins Thursday night.

Which brings us to Sunday, when Bryzgalov made the announcement to the media that he would not be starting at Citizens Bank Park Monday afternoon. Bryzgalov, who is lately becoming more well known for his eccentric personaility on HBO’s 24/7 series than for his play in net, announced he would not be starting the game, and that he had been informed of this by Flyers’ goalie coach Jeff Reese and not by Laviolette.

Now what are you thinking if you’re one of Bryzgalov’s teammates when they hear he apparently has no faith in himself? Better yet, what kind of message does that send to the opposing teams? Or perhaps most importantly the Flyers’ front office, who shelled out piles of money to finally land a goalie who was seemingly worth his price tag?

I realize there is plenty of hockey left to be played, but it’s not too much of a stretch to wonder whether Bryzgalof can mentally handle the pressure of Philadelphia's big stage without running the risk of falling apart. All of these comical moments are well and good when the team is winning, but if Bryzgalov continues to pull this nonsense and the team spirals downward, there will be finger pointing and Philly fans will eat him alive. His apparent lack of seriousness will only go over for so long, and only time will tell if this has a long term effect on the team.

To top things off, the Flyers not only lost the game, they also kissed two more points goodbye to the Rangers in the standings. It was a close and intense game, and you can't help but wonder if the outcome would have been different if Bryzgalov had his head screwed on straight.

To be fair, Rangers' goalie Henrik Lundqvist was exceptional and the Flyers blew several breakaways, but what transpired over this weekend has turned into the proverbial elephant in the room and will continue to be until something is resolved. Ugh, the Flyers might have another soap opera brewing again.

And for a team who finally put the drama over the last several years behind them, that's the last thing they need.

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Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com

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Article Photo: Toronto Sun