Better With Popcorn

Where there is smoke, there is Bryzgalov

Ilya Bryzgalov’s time in Philadelphia has been contentious to say the least.

Coming into town on the back of one of the most dramatic shakeups in team history (in addition to one of the largest contracts in league history), the 31-year old goaltender had a giant “X” on his back long before he ever wore an orange sweater.

For a franchise that has had inconsistency at the position since the late 1970s, Bryzgalov is expected to add stability to a role that has been lacking.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case thus far. He has been streaky for a large majority of the year. Either he wins games in long stretches or he losses games in long stretches.

He is currently experiencing the latter.

Bryzgalov has gone four consecutive games without registering a win (0-3-1), with his most recent start against the Tampa Bay Lightning being distractingly atrocious allowing five goals on only 16 shots against.

In addition, the Russian net minder has allowed four or more goals in three of the four starts.

Of course, before going on his mini-slide Bryzgalov had won six consecutive games where he held opponents to two goals or less in all but two games.

With all indications pointing to Bryzgalov starting tonight against the Chicago Blackhawks, the frustrated goalie will look to win back the faith of the fans.

However, his play has taken a backseat to his personality and has been a source of concern.

Prior to Monday’s Winter Classic, Bryzgalov made an ill-advised statement when he leaked that back-up Sergei Bobrovsky was going to start in his place.

“I have great news and even better news,” Bryzgalov said to reporters. “OK, great news: I’m not playing tomorrow night. Good news: we have a chance to win the game.”

The media session continued with discussion of his thermos and about a brawl that occurred at a game he played in Russia when he was a teenager.

Some have been quick to say that the interview was an example of Bryzgalov breaking down or that he is unable to handle the Philadelphia media. It has even enabled some to question whether he is a legitimate starting goaltender.

With all of the chaos surrounding the event, one simple fact has consistently been overlooked.

Hockey goaltenders are weird.

In 2010, HBO profiled the Broad Street Bullies. When discussion turned to Bernie Parent, the franchise’s single greatest goaltender, a large portion of the segment focused upon his eccentricities.

Bobby Taylor, the team’s other goaltender, explained how Parent loved to smell things, especially brand new pairs of leather shoes.

“He wasn’t half crazy,” Flyers captain Bobby Clarke said in the documentary. “He was all crazy!”

The same can be said of Bryzgalov.

He has consistently displayed that he is, well, unique. All one has to do is watch an episode of HBO’s 24/7 to see that.

In the bigger scheme of things, his strangest moments have come following poor stretches of play. For those worrying that these outbursts are an example of the goaltender cracking under pressure, think again.

Following a horrendous performance against the Winnipeg Jets where he allowed four goals on 10 shots, Bryzgalov exclaimed that he was lost in the woods and had lost his confidence.

After much concern about the goaltender’s fragile psyche (and a failed gag attempt by the organization), Bryzgalov rattled off a record of 11-1-1 prior to his current cold streak.

Much like Parent, Bryzgalov believes that the key to life is to be happy. While he has made self-deprecating remarks to explain his play, it may be a defense mechanism to soften the blow to his ego.

Every joke is followed by a genuine sentiment.

“Yes. I’m a human,” Bryzgalov said in regards to the disappointment of not starting. “I’m not made from steel, but it is what it is and I had a good practice again like yesterday and two days ago. We just keep moving forward and there are lots of games in front of us.”

The previous statement was made moments after his initial “good news, great news” announcement. While it may not be the one everyone acknowledges, it is far more insightful.

He gives the fans plenty to laugh about. Sometimes, he says things the fans worry about.

Ultimately, the events that transpired at the Winter Classic media day are nothing to blow out of proportion. They are merely the thoughts of a humongous, big (and sometimes crazy) mind.

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