BUFFALO -- Since arriving in the United States from Russia for the first time in August, Sergei Bobrovsky has never had much to say.
With the language barrier, it’s not that Bobrovsky doesn’t want to talk - it’s that he’s afraid to say the wrong thing. And when he does speak, he makes sure it is with a translator and he remains politically correct.
Could you imagine moving to a foreign country, not knowing the language and having 5 to 10 microphones stuck in your face everyday to record your thoughts?
That’s all well and good. But it makes it tough to understand exactly what Bobrovsky has been thinking over the ups and downs of the last month.
On Tuesday night in Buffalo, Bobrovsky allowed two goals in the first 10 minutes of the game - one’s that he’d surely like to have back - but settled down to pick up his first win since Dec. 15 in his first start of 2011.
He got plenty of work in the month of December, appearing in 8 of the Flyers’ 13 games that month, but he didn’t exactly have the month he was looking for. His goals against-average in those 8 games was 3.68 and his save percentage was just .891 (206 saves, 231 shots faced).
Undoubtedly, it was good for Bobrovsky to not only get back into game action - but to do it with Michael Leighton back in Adirondack and not putting any undue pressure on him.
“It’s always good to play,” Bobrovsky said with the help of a translator. “I was just waiting for my opportunity, waiting for a chance to play so that when I did get a chance to play, I would perform well.”
Bobrovsky settled down as the game worn on, keeping Buffalo scoreless over the final 50 minutes of the game. He stopped 38 shots in all.
“He seemed to grow with confidence as the game went on,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “I thought he did a good job and settled into the game, made some really big saves through the first [period] and second period. He gave us an opportunity to get our legs under us and win the game in the third.
“I do think he got stronger as the game went on, it looked like he got more comfortable in there with the shots that we coming at him and handling the puck.”
Laviolette did not announce a starting goaltender on Wednesday, with his team snowed in at their hotel in Boston, but it’s tough to imagine him not turning to Brian Boucher, who beat the Bruins earlier this season in Boston. Boucher grew up in nearby Woonsocket, R.I., and said the Bruins are his favorite team to play against.
Even so, it’s tough to rate how Bobrovsky has played through the first half of the season - which could essentially be broken down into two quarters.
He has made 29 appearances this season - with 28 games started. He has been pulled from a game just twice and came in once in relief of Boucher. Through his first 14 starts, Bobrovsky was 11-2-1. In his last 14 starts, Bobrovsky is 5-5-2 with two no-decisions.
Boucher's hot stretch has unquestionably made it easier for the Flyers to swallow Bobrovsky's regression - though we all knew it was probably impossible for a rookie to go through an 82 game season without any bumps in the road, especially in net.
His recent numbers don't suggest, either, that he is any less talented or any less a "real deal" goaltender in the NHL.
Overall, Bobrovsky has a 16-6-3 record with a 2.55 goals against-average and .917 save percentage - and that’s the number that seems to count the most.
He has spent a significant amount of time with goaltending coach Jeff Reese after practice when he is not the starting goaltender the next game, trying to pick up new techniques and tricks.
Bobrovsky said even he would have a tough time grading his play through the first half.
“I don’t rate my play,” Bobrovsky said. “As long as we win, I’m happy. As every day goes by, it gets easier and easier.”
Getting back into the rotation, with Leighton in Adirondack, will make it even easier.
THE FIGHTER: Scott Hartnell said he wasn’t intentionally trying to turn the tide of the Flyers’ game on Tuesday night by fighting Buffalo’s Paul Gaustad late in the second period - even if that’s exactly what he did.
The Flyers were in the middle of a 11-minute drought without a shot-on-goal when Hartnell and Gaustad squared off.
“The shift before that, he has went after [Claude] Giroux,” Hartnell explained. “I just kind of went over to say something to him, we’ve always been jabbing at each other since I’ve been a Flyer.
“I wasn’t standing up for ‘G,’ but I wanted him to know that you can’t touch one of our best players.”
Hartnell earned praise for dropping the gloves by Laviolette, saying it helped spark the team on the bench. Danny Briere scored to tie the game less than 3 minutes later and the Flyers went on to score 3 goals in the third period for the 5-2 win.
It was Hartnell’s third fight of the season, his first since Nov. 15 against Ottawa and the 48th of his NHL career.
Some say there is no purpose for fighting in hockey. To me, it’s a way for players to not only police themselves but also a way for players to galvanize a sluggish team.
“It was good to get in a fight,” Hartnell said. “I hadn’t been in a fight in a while. I’m definitely not the best or the best technical fighter out there, but it was good to get the boys going.”
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