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Confusing Quantity with Quality: Ilya Bryzgalov’s First Half

Mar 6, 2013, 12:27 PM EDT

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On last night’s NBC pregame show, Mike Milbury referred to Ilya Bryzgalov as the Flyers’ “rock.” He did so after being asked a leading question about how well the goaltender had played through 23 games.

Bryzgalov’s most recent outing to date had been a 2-1 win over the Senators during which he made 34 saves. On Tuesday night, he let up four goals en route to a 4-2 Flyers loss to the Rangers.

But Tuesday’s performance does little to change his overall numbers, which is the reason we’re having this conversation.

Bryzgalov has been labeled in print, on air and even by his teammates for much of the 2012-13 campaign as the most consistent Flyer. It’s just that everyone seems to looking at consistency the wrong way. Bryz hasn’t been consistently good so much as he’s just been consistently in net.

To date, only one team has played as many games as the Flyers’ 24, and that’s the Buffalo Sabres. Since Bryzgalov has only sat two games, that ties him with Ryan Miller for the most games played by a goaltender this year (22). Bryz sits atop or near the top of all the lists that have to do with sheer quantity: games, wins, loses, TOI, goals allowed, saves made, total shots faced, etc.

But the numbers related to his actual quality of play plummet him down the list. If we remove goaltenders who haven’t played at least 10 games so far — making Ray Emery the cutoff — Bryzgalov is 22nd in goals against average (2.68) and 26th in save percentage (.903).

The latter number is particularly worrying, because even though Bryzgalov has faced the third-most total shots in the league, the Flyers give up the eight-fewest attempts on goal per game (27.4). It’s also kind of odd, considering how many breakdowns the Flyers seem to have at their own blue line.

They don’t give up many chances, but some of those they do surrender tend to result in spectacular opportunities for their opponents. Exacerbating that issue is just how weak Bryzgalov seems to be one-on-one. Stopping the occasional breakaway and moving laterally is part of the job description.

Heading back to Miller — who, once again, is the only goalie to play as
many games — he owns a 2.83 GAA (worse than Bryz) and a .914 save
percentage (better than Bryz). The difference: Miller has faced 146 more
shots; Buffalo allows the third-most shots on goal in the league
(33.2), 5.8 more than the Flyers.

In his defense, Bryzgalov hasn’t been the problem this year, the breakdowns aren’t his fault, the Flyers don’t have any better option, and it’s possible fatigue has contributed to his below-average statistics.

But it’s not unfair to compare him to Ryan Miller, just as it isn’t unfair to compare him to goalies with lesser workloads. Because if Bryzgalov requires help in order to be the goaltender the Flyers need him to be — whether it’s another defenseman or a different backup goaltender — these are the evaluations that need to be made before the trade deadline or during the next offseason.

It’s not enough just to stick him in goal and hope his contract is going to stop the puck.