Sergei Bobrovsky spent part of his first Thanksgiving in the United States yesterday the same way he has spent almost any other day since arriving in Philadelphia in late August: stopping pucks and laughing with his teammates.
Besides his family, girlfriend and friends back in Russia, his newfound success and fans in Philadelphia, and his health, Bobrovsky can be thankful for being paired with Flyers goaltending coach Jeff Reese.
While Bobrovsky received a well-deserved break over the last week after reeling off a 9-1-1 record in 11 straight games, he spent most of his time with Reese, watching tape and retooling his game before heading back to the crease on Wednesday night in Minnesota.
Bobrovsky allowed just one goal in his first game back, stopping 15 of 16 shots in the Flyers' 6-1 win over the Wild.
"The rest was not so much physical as it is going to refresh his mind," Reese said. "A couple games were definitely going to help him. He's a young guy, he's in great shape, so physically it's not too much. But he's never played more than 35 games in a season before. It's a mental grind."
Reese's refresher for Bobrovsky included three parts: watching clips in the video room, watching from the bench and physical work in practice.
"He watched a few of his own games, watched a few games from others around the league," Reese said. "He's still learning when he's sitting on the bench, too. Against Montreal [on Monday], he was watching a guy like 'Boosh' [the Flyers' Brian Boucher] and his puck handling and a guy like [the Canadiens' Carey] Price and his positioning. Those are things that can be beneficial."
Undoubtedly, Bobrovsky's first task on the ice is stopping the puck. He has proved he can do that well - and do it from all angles - as he has stopped 92.5 percent of shots, which is seventh-best in the NHL. Bobrovsky's goals-against average is ninth at 2.21.
But one gripe from the Flyers' defensemen, if you can call it that, is that Bobrovsky doesn't know when to handle the puck. He doesn't leave the crease often to set up the puck behind the net, like his counterparts do, to start the breakout.
The defensemen say Bobrovsky, who is still learning English, communicates almost entirely in Russian on the ice - out of habit. The only Russian tongue on defense is Oskars Bartulis, who has played just two games this season.
In Russia's Kontinental Hockey League, goaltenders aren't taught to play the puck. In the NHL, it's a necessity.
"If you were to look at a tape from the beginning of training camp until now, he's improved immensely," Reese said. "He's out on a lot of pucks. He's making plays. He's icing pucks. He's getting a taste for it. He still has a long way to go. That will come with experience, hard work, and learning the language a little better.
"It's not as important [in Russia]. He doesn't need to be able to fire it off the glass, or a really hard shot, he just needs to be able to make smart decisions and small passes."
Reese said he was most impressed with Bobrovsky's ability to adjust on the fly. He has witnessed changes in Bobrovsky's game not only from August until now but from the start of his 12-game run until the end.
The continual adjustments have planted Bobrovsky's name firmly at the top of the Calder Trophy list for rookie of the year - one of the few trophies never to have been engraved with a Flyer's name.
"I think he's a long way from where he was," Reese said. "The traffic was an issue, the puck handling was an issue, the shots from everywhere were an issue. He seems to have adjusted quickly as we've gone along, which is very impressive. It would have been an easier step for him to make those adjustments at the AHL level, but what's been impressive is he's been able to do it at this level.
"He is a very good, young goalie," Reese continued. "And he has a chance, if he keeps working hard, to be very good for a very long time."
Despite arriving back in Philadelphia a little after 2 a.m. yesterday, Peter Laviolette had his players back on the ice yesterday at the Skate Zone to stay focused for today's matinee with Calgary. "Holidays are great and all, but we have a big game that we want to win," Laviolette said . . . Jarome Iginla has six goals and one assist in his last four games for Calgary . . . The Flames have won just twice in their last 12 games and the Flyers, who still share the NHL's lead in points, have started another three-game winning streak. *
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