Bobrovsky's play may push Bryzgalov out of the Flyers net for Winter Classic

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In his last eight starts, Sergei Bobrovsky (right) is 5-1 with two no-decisions and a .947 save percentage. (Staff file photos)

Nearly three months into the season, Ilya Bryzgalov is the Flyers' second-best Russian goalie.

Bryzgalov's $51 million, nine-year contract made him the team's No. 1 choice in October, but he clearly has been outplayed by his backup, Sergei Bobrovsky.

This stunning development has caused coach Peter Laviolette to pause before deciding which goalie should start Monday's Winter Classic against the New York Rangers at Citizens Bank Park.

"What a big win tonight," a smirking Laviolette said after Thursday's 4-2 victory in Pittsburgh, sidestepping a question about whether he had a difficult goalie decision on Monday. "Let's stick to tonight, right now. I mean, I'm not even out of the building."

In Bryz-speak, Bobrovsky has been "humongous big" in his last eight starts. During that time, he is 5-1 with two no-decisions, a 1.55 goals-against average, and a .947 save percentage.

Bryzgalov has lost four straight, compiling a 4.58 goals-against average in that span.

Poll

Which goalie should start for the Flyers in the Winter Classic?

The overall numbers also are in Bobrovsky's favor. For the season, the second-year goalie is 8-2-1 with a 2.52 goals-against average and .913 save percentage. Bryzgalov is 14-8-3 with a 3.01 GAA and .890 save percentage.

In the most-hyped game of the NHL regular season, Laviolette has a difficult choice: Does he go with the hot goalie, Bobrovsky, and risk diluting Bryzgalov's already-low confidence level - while also, some might say, indirectly taking a slap at management's decision to sign the former Phoenix star? Or does he go back to Bryzgalov and hope he reverts to the form in which he went 5-0-1 with a 1.66 goals-against average during an early-season six-game stretch?

It's natural to assume Laviolette will go back to Bryzgalov, but, remember, the coach has made some surprising goalie decisions in the past. For proof, see last season's playoffs, when the Flyers equaled a dubious NHL record by making seven in-game goalie switches.

In a philly.com poll, about 77 percent of the 1,200 voters by 3 p.m. Friday afternoon said Bobrovsky should start.

Bouncy Bryz. Bryzgalov was back to being his playful, jovial self as he joked with reporters before Thursday's game in Pittsburgh. He also said he was "frustrated" by his inconsistent play.

His formula to turn around his game?

"Be patient and work hard, and maybe the bounces start going your way," he said.

Two sides of the Iron City. Pittsburgh was both classy and classless on the same night Thursday.

Classy: In the first period, the hosts showed a video tribute to the Flyers' Max Talbot, a former Penguin, and he received a standing ovation.

Classless: A Penguins fan held up a Flyers jersey that had an obscene version of Jagr's name on the back of it - and it was shown on the scoreboard as the crowd roared.

Breakaways. The NHL took an assist away from Claude Giroux for Thursday's game and gave it to Scott Hartnell. Giroux entered Friday tied with Vancouver's Henrik Sedin for the NHL lead with 45 points. . . . A smiling Jaromir Jagr enjoyed telling writers how his backchecking helped prevent James Neal from scoring an early goal Thursday. "Remember me for the Selke!" he said, referring to the award given to the league's best defensive forward. . . . Winger James van Riemsdyk, apparently bothered by a lower-body injury, played just 9 minutes, 36 seconds on Thursday.

Kimmo Timonen is quietly having an all-star season; going into Friday's games, he was third among NHL defensemen with 23 assists. . . . Brayden Schenn had four hits and played the best game of his brief Flyers tenure on Thursday. . . . Jagr, who scored the goal that gave the Flyers the lead for good against his former team, was sharply criticized in several Pittsburgh newspaper stories Friday, and one columnist called him a phony. "They make stuff up," Jagr said. . . . Defenseman Erik Gustafsson was activated and sent to the AHL's Phantoms. . . . The New York Rangers, the Flyers' Winter Classic foe, waived instigator Sean Avery for the second time this season.

 


Contact staff writer Sam Carchidi at scarchidi@phillynews.com or @BroadStBull on Twitter.