VOORHEES TOWNSHIP — The biggest question surrounding the Philadelphia Flyers this season is the mental state of their mercurial goaltender, Ilya Bryzgalov.
So what, new Flyer Ruslan Fedotenko was asked, was his impression of Bryzgalov after three days of training camp?
“He’s a great guy,” Fedotenko said with a smile Tuesday at Flyers Skate Zone.
“He’s a great guy,” Fedotenko repeated.
Even Bryzgalov’s teammates and coaches seem unsure of what to expect from a man whose first season with the Flyers will be remembered more for his bizarre comments than for his mostly forgettable play.
Things have not gone as smoothly as the Flyers had hoped when they signed Bryzgalov to a nine-year, $51 million contract as a free agent last offseason.
The 32-year-old was benched for the Winter Classic outdoor game on New Year’s Day. After averaging 67 games the previous three regular seasons with Phoenix, he played in just 59. His 2.48 goals-against average ranked 21st in the league, and his .909 save percentage ranked 33rd.
Meanwhile, he made headlines for his musings about the universe on HBO’s “24/7,” and for saying he was “lost in the woods” at one point.
When Bryzgalov first spoke to the Philadelphia media last week, before training camp began, he said he now understood how things worked with the fans and media in Philadelphia. He said he “made some notes in my head” and was “going to follow it.”
On Monday, Bryzgalov was asked how the second day of training camp had gone.
“Same as the first,” he said, dismissively.
Asked if there was more pressure on him in a lockout-shortened, 48-game season, he replied, “Why?” When a reporter rephrased the question, Bryzgalov said: “No. I just have to worry about one thing: how to help the team win the games. That’s it.”
Coach Peter Laviolette said he has not seen a difference in Bryzgalov’s attitude or demeanor this season, though.
“I haven’t really noticed, but I don’t sit in on the scrums when you guys interview him, so I didn’t hear any of what went on last year as it was going on,” Laviolette said Tuesday. “To me, he seems focused. He’s come into camp in great shape. His practices to this point have been really sharp. He looks really good.”
Forward Danny Briere, though, speculated that the combination of adjusting to a new town and being heavily scrutinized took its toll on Bryzgalov last season. Briere said during a radio interview on WIP-FM in Philadelphia on Tuesday that the goalie’s mental state appears better this season.
“I think — he said it himself — it seems like he’s learned a lot from last season,” Briere said. “But what I see (from) Bryz the last few days in the dressing room is that, last year when he came in, it was a whirlwind. Everybody wanted a piece of him. He was trying to set up his family, new house, car, trying to arrange everything with school for the kids. He was going 100 miles per hour on and off the ice.
“Whereas this year, you look at him in the room, he’s a lot more relaxed. Everything’s taken care of. He’s just concentrating on hockey, so I think he’s in a better place right now.”
Bryzgalov has proven throughout his career how good he can be when he’s in the right place mentally. Less than three years ago, he finished fifth in the voting for the Hart Trophy as league MVP.
If he can get back to that level on the ice, few people will care how he acts off it.
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