Bryzgalov infamously struggled in his first year with the Flyers, posting a moderate .909 save percentage and a 2.48 goals-against average while building a reputation for erratic behavior and allowing deflating goals.
Bryzgalov apologists chalked up his inconsistency, in part, to coach Peter Laviolette’s own sporadic behavior. An off night for Bryzgalov usually resulted in a start by backup Sergei Bobrovsky, and some goalies do not play well when they aren’t given the chance to redeem themselves in the next game.
In his prior two seasons with the Phoenix Coyotes, Bryzgalov started an average of 68 games per season and posted save percentages of .920 and .921 in 2009-10 and 2010-11 respectively. Due to the presence of Bobrovsky and Laviolette’s quickness to change things in the crease, Bryzgalov only managed 57 starts in 2011-12.
Bobrovsky was traded to Columbus before the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and Michael Leighton of the AHL’s Adirondack Phantoms was signed as Bryzgalov’s true backup.
Barring an injury, Bryzgalov could have been expected to start 65-70 games in a full 2012-13 season, giving him the best chance to return to the form he showed in the desert.
For Bryzgalov, without finding a home in the KHL, an extended lockout could have kept him out of the game, collecting rust for six months or more. That can be a death sentence for a goaltender that relies heavily on building momentum over the course of a long season.
In theory, Bryzgalov’s time spent in Russia could translate to a quick start once the NHL season does begin.
Certain NHL players can benefit from the lockout by getting some extra rest, taking time to heal and playing more aggressively during a shortened season. Other players, like Bryzgalov, need a way to cope with a stagnant hockey existence.
The KHL is a place for Bryzgalov to play competitive, but ultimately meaningless hockey in preparation for the season that really matters. He will begin his 2012-13 campaign far away from the judging eyes of the Philadelphia media, allowing him to find his game in peace.
In some ways, the lockout could turn out to be a benefit for the Flyers. It may be the catalyst for a shift in the mentality and performance of a goaltender still trying to tap into his potential in a major hockey market.