Monday, January 2, 2012
Again with the goalies in Philly?
By Scott Burnside
Once again, the great elephant named "goaltending" has returned to take up a prime position in the center of the Philadelphia Flyers' dressing room.
It's not that young Flyer netminder Sergei Bobrovsky was especially bad in Monday's 3-2 loss to the New York Rangers in the Winter Classic.
But as has been the case all season when these two Atlantic Division rivals meet, the Flyers' goaltending just wasn't quite good enough.
Not quite good enough has been the mantra for Flyers goaltenders for decades, since the departure of Ron Hextall and before him Hall of Famer Bernie Parent.
That mantra was supposed to have been muted with the signing of former Vezina Trophy nominee Ilya Bryzgalov, but Bryzgalov has struggled to find and maintain a groove in this market. And head coach Peter Laviolette made a bold statement by giving Bobrovsky the start in the highly anticipated Winter Classic.
For the first two periods, you could hardly quibble with the choice.
The Flyers had jumped out to a 2-0 lead and led 2-1 heading into the third period. But just 2:41 into the final frame, Mike Rupp managed to sneak a shot under Bobrovsky's arm to tie the game. It was Rupp's second goal of the game.
It was a shot that should have been stopped. Needed to be stopped.
But it wasn't in that moment that the game changed, as 2:40 later Brad Richards put home the rebound of a Brandon Dubinsky shot that proved to be the difference.
"It was tough. I thought he played a strong game," Laviolette said.
"Certainly, he would probably like another crack at that one. He seemed steady and confident in there, and you know, it did -- I think it set us back for a little bit there," the coach said.
In the Flyers' locker room, Bobrovsky took an awfully long time to emerge to talk to reporters.
Through an interpreter, the 23-year-old admitted he hadn't played as well as he needed.
"In general, not bad. Too bad I made a mistake," he said.
The netminder insisted the performance (he stopped 30 of 33 shots) won't effect his confidence but that remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, there's still half a season to play so there's lots of time for Bryzgalov to get his mojo back.
"I think he's got a lot of confidence in himself so I'm not really worried about him. He's going to bounce back because he's got great technique, he's got great form and he's a world-class goaltender,"
defenseman Braydon Coburn said.
"He's a positive guy," he added.
But the Winter Classic was yet another reminder of what has been the team's Achilles' heel for years and a reminder that for all of the anticipation that accompanied the Bryzgalov signing that nothing has truly been resolved.
The loss marked the third in a row for the Flyers to the Rangers, who lead the Atlantic Division and the Flyers by four points. It also reinforced that gap that exists between the two teams at that critical position.
While Bobrovsky wavered at a critical juncture in the game, Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist stopped Danny Briere on a penalty shot with 19.6 seconds left in the game to preserve the victory.
You talk about the fine line between winning and losing, and after a game like Monday's, that fine line somehow doesn't seem so fine anymore.
Laviolette was asked about the difference in the three losses and acknowledged that Lundqvist's play was a definite thread.
He also acknowledged that the three games the teams have against one another this season may loom large in a future they hope includes a long playoff run.
"They are an opponent that is, I think, somebody that we'll have to deal with in the future. They have got a good hockey team that played well to this point," Laviolette said.
In the Flyers' dressing room, owner Ed Snider, the man who emphatically announced last spring after the Flyers were swept by the Boston Bruins in the second round that the team was going to solve its ongoing goaltending issues, insisted he's not worried.
"We have two goalies and one was playing better than the other coming into this game and won the start, but it's not a big issue from a point of view of the team. We have two good goalies and we think they'll work out whatever issues they have," Snider said.
"There's no issue. We have no issue. We have two good goalies, we'll be fine. We're fighting for first place. Something must be going well.
They can't be that bad," he said.
Unfortunately for fans in Philadelphia, there's not a lot of consensus on that view.
|Through an interpreter, 23-year-old Sergei Bobrovsky admitted he hadn't played as well as he needed in the Classic.|
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.