Next up in our opponent’s scouting report series is everyone’s favorite Flyer, Ilya Bryzgalov. Since I’m all about full disclosure, I will admit up front that I have a huge (humungous big) soft spot for Bryz. On one hand, he does everything in his power to reinforce the stereotype that goalies are completely out of their minds (which isn’t completely true), but on the other hand, he is ridiculously entertaining. Same criteria as always applies, general style, strengths, weaknesses, and how the Rangers should approach the matchup.
Bryz is something of a throwback without being much of a throwback. What I mean by that is he embraces everything about modern goaltending, from the equipment to the save techniques, but completely omits the new generation movement paradigm. He relies mainly on a his size (6’3”, 208lbs) and his solid positional game to neutralize offenses. It is very rare that you see him utilize the butterfly slide as a movement vehicle and generally relies on extension and reflexes to stop shots on rebounds or lateral passing.
The perception of this (in contrast to Sergei Bobrovsky, who is one of the most agile goalies in the NHL) has maddened Flyer’s fans since the start of the season. Since Bryz does not give the appearance of all out effort to stop every shot, it seems like he isn’t really trying, or allowing goals he shouldn’t. However, the truth is that Bryzgalov puts himself in the best possible position to stop the shot and trusts that the shot will hit him because of this. When he was slumping earlier in the season, his positioning wasn’t as sharp as it usually is.
As I just mentioned, Bryzgalov’s biggest strengths are his size and positioning. He is a fairly level headed goaltender and doesn’t attack the puck aggressively. He simply puts equipment in front of the puck.
Bryzgalov is a very competent puck handler. He is no Smith or Brodeur but he runs laps around Lundqvist or Fleury. He is also a strong skater, with quick strong shuffles and a solid up and down game. The theme with Bryzgalov’s strengths is that he is a jack of all trades and a master of none. There is nothing in his game that he does at an elite level, but there is nothing he is particularly weak at.
The biggest weakness is Bryz’s well balanced game is his lack of elite mobility around the net. Because he is a strong skater with good balance when executing shuffles and butterfly recoveries he can mitigate this to an extent. However, it makes him more vulnerable to rebounds and deflections. Lateral passing isn’t as much of a problem as the other two examples because he is usually able to get a strong directional push, but changing directions gives him more of a problem.
His recent hot streak notwithstanding, he seems to be having trouble adjusting to the goalie graveyard that is Philadelphia. Because the fan base there hasn’t had a goalie that was embraced by that town in earnest since Ron Hextall, they have given Bryz almost zero margin for error. The fact that he was miscast as an elite goaltender by his contract hasn’t helped his case when dealing with the fans and media. He was brought in to be a savior, and that is simply not in his skill set.
How the Rangers should approach the matchup
Exactly how they have been throughout this season. The Blueshirts have taken advantage of his adjustment to a big market and big expectations by jumping on him early and often. He hasn’t seemed comfortable at MSG in his two games there this season, and the Rangers know it.
Assuming his hot streak of late is simply a sign that he is settling down and won’t be as easily rattled going forward, the Rangers need a tactical game plan. My advice would be to make him change directions as much as possible. When the Ranger’s shooters (especially the point men) are dealing with a low-probability shot, they need to avoid shooting locations that will allow Bryzgalov to control the rebound. Shots need to be hard and low, forcing bounces and taking advantage of his lack of mobility in scrambles. Traffic in front never hurts either.
The bottom line is that Bryzgalov is a very talented netminder, but hardly the elite goalie is he being paid to be. His contract was a function of supply and demand combined with a Philly team that was desperate to cure their goaltending ills. He is an above-average starter, no doubt, but not one of the most intimidating matchups the Rangers could face on their quest for Lord Stanley this spring.
Up next is the goalie we Ranger’s fans love to hate: Marty Brodeur.