January 01, 2012
PHILADELPHIA — When asked if he was starting for the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2012 Winter Classic, goalie Sergei Bobrovsky said "it's very confidential for now." His coach, Peter Laviolette, said no decision had been made after the Flyers' practice at Citizens Bank Park.
Meanwhile, Ilya Bryzgalov stood before the assembled media and did what Ilya Bryzgalov does best: Speaking without the benefit of a filter.
"I have great news and even better news," said Bryzgalov when asked if he was starting for the Flyers. "Great news: I'm not playing tomorrow night. Good news: We have a chance to win the game."
Bryzgalov said he hadn't spoke to Laviolette but that his goalie coach Jeff Reese had informed him he wasn't starting.
"Is that big deal?" he said, dry as toast.
Here's Bryzgalov announcing his status and speaking about HBO 24/7, auctioning his pads on eBay and other bits of Bryz gold.
Barring this being a smokescreen or a late change of heart by the coach, what does Bryzgalov's benching mean for the Classic … and, more importantly, what are the larger implications from it?
Bryzgalov is winless in his last four starts, going 0-3 and giving up 16 goals on 87 shots. Bobrovsky is 3-0 in his last three starts, giving up 6 goals on 88 shots.
"Bryz has had a tough couple of games. Bob has been pretty steady the whole year," said winger Scottie Hartnell. "I think it might be good for Bryz to get a wake-up call, work on some things, get back being the goalie that he can be."
In one game against the Rangers this season, Bobrovsky gave up 2 goals on 32 shots and took the loss. Last season, he was 1-0-1 with a 2.28 GAA. Bryzgalov is 0-1 against the Rangers this season, giving up 4 goals on 24 shots.
"I think you look at Peter's patterns about who plays and not. If a guy's hot, he usually plays him," said defenseman Braydon Coburn, Bobrovsky's stall mate in the Flyers' locker room.
But if Bryzgalov sits, it ties into a larger pattern for his first season in Philadelphia: The Flyers protecting him from pressure.
Sitting him for the Flyers' trip to Winnipeg after his caustic comments. Attempting to shield him from the media earlier this season after he had a meltdown. Now, sitting him for the Winter Classic, as the team's starting goaltender doesn't get a chance to perform for 45,000 home fans.
(It's also either boon or a bust for HBO, which has obviously worked hard to make Bryzgalov the breakout star of "24/7". Does sitting him make for more drama, or is missing the chance to mic him up on the ice during the Classic the biggest loss.)
(Well, there's always mic'ing him on the bench. Who wouldn't watch Bryzgalov giving the Winter Classic the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment for 3 hours?)
Like other players, Bryzgalov is going to be defined by his contract. At nine years, and accompanied by the summer's hype, the notion that he's sitting for the Winter Classic is astounding. Logical? Sure. A good hockey decision? Probably. Something you would have fathomed the moment the Flyers were announced as the host of the 2012 Winter Classic? Absolutely not.
If he sits ... like Hartnell said, maybe it's a message. Maybe it's motivation. He's the franchise goalie who has been snubbed for a spotlight on the regular season's biggest stage. He's a $51 million investment that will likely watch a guy on a rookie contract between the pipes with nation watching.
The notion that he announced this to the media, and shared his feelings about it, before Laviolette's announcement is stunning. No, make that insulting; a flight of ego that simply won't pass without some behind-closed-doors reprimand. It's not the first time this has happened; from Frank Seravalli of Frequent Flyers:
Back in November, while the Flyers were practicing in Anaheim, Bryzgalov was asked if he was upset with the fact that Bobrovsky played in 3 straight games and 15 out of 21 periods.
"I am sick, guys," Bryzgalov said. "I was dealing with a cold."
Caught off-guard, Laviolette said that Bryzgalov "may have come down with something."
That didn't stop multiple players from coming up to this reporter to say, "I can't believe you would buy what he was saying. He wasn't sick."
(Again, assuming he doesn't start ... apologies for all the caveats, but it's Bryz we're talking about here.)
You have to hand it Laviolette: He's the honey badger of coaches. He just doesn't give a [expletive]. The stall against the Lightning, ruining a nationally televised game. A 9 a.m. practice on New Year's Day. (Although the NHL had some influence in this). And now, taking the breakout star from the NHL's flagship reality series from the game that it had promoted for weeks, leaving "24/7" viewers and Flyers fans asking:
'Why you heff to be benched?'