The Canadiens, who have picked up points in eight of their 11 games so far this month (5-3-3, 13 of a possible 22), fly into Philadelphia for their Saturday night game. They’ll take on a Flyers team that has gotten points in 10 of 12 games this month (9-2-1, 19 of a possible 24) and is 6-1 in their last seven home games. With the Rangers stumbling a bit, both the Flyers and hard-charging Penguins are finishing the season strongly, getting ready to make some playoff noise, if not catch New York for the conference lead.
The biggest turnaround for the Flyers has come from the play of Ilya Bryzgalov, the much-maligned goalie whose quirky observations made him a star on HBO early in the season while Philly fans and his teammates were not amused by his problems stopping pucks. Considered the answer to the Flyers’ chronic need for a decent goalie when signed a huge contract last summer, Bryzgalov slumped to an .895 save percentage through January, landing him in the Philly doghouse.
But so far this month, he’s gone 9-1-1 with a 1.24 goals against average and an incredible .956 save percentage with four shutouts.
“”I think there’s a tremendous amount of confidence in our goaltender,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “And when you have confidence, when your goaltender gives you that confidence, you feel like you can score goals, like you can take a few more chances.”
His most recent outing was Thursday, a 2-1 shootout win over the Caps in which Bryzgalov was named first star of the game for the sixth time this month.
His only weakness seems to be giving up the first goal of the game. The Flyers have fallen behind 1-0 15 times in their last 20 games, and fell behind 2-0 three games in a row last week. On Thursday, they fell behind again when Bryzgalov gave up a goal on the first Caps’ shot. That led Jaromir Jagr to suggest with a sly grin that backup goalie Sergei Bobrovski start all the Flyers games, just stop the first shot and then turn it over to Bryzgalov. When you’re winning, it’s easy to have fun.
Actually, Bryzgalov has had to be good because the Flyers haven’t been scoring much of late. They only scored more than three goals twice this month and some key performers like Jagr and Danny Briere haven’t been scoring. Jagr has only two goals and four assists in the last month, a run of 15 games, while Briere has only one goal and five assists in the same period. Wayne Simmonds has no goals and three assists in those 15 games; he’s stuck on 22 goals. Max Talbot, who hit his career high 17th goal 15 games ago, has only scored once since.
Of course, Talbot contributes in other ways and he’ll be out there checking the Cole-Desharnais-Pacioretty line along with Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek.
Others are doing their best to pick up the offensive slack. Jagr’s centre Claude Giroux continues to be one of the NHL’s top scorers, now 27-58-85 on the season, a point ahead of Steven Stamkos as runner-up to Evgeni Malkin’s 95 points in the Art Ross Trophy race. Giroux has had 25 points in his last 18 games. And Scott Harnell, who’s having a career year, has eight goals in the last 14 games.
The Flyers good play is all the more impressive considering their defence corps has played through some key injuries. Of course, they’ve been without Chris Pronger for most of the year and he won’t be back. Kimmo Timonen, who has taken over much of Pronger’s duties as the top guy, missed five games with a bad back earlier this month. Pavel Kubina, who came from Tampa Bay before the trade deadline to be a big shot from the point, came back earlier this week after missing eight games with an upper body injury. Andrej Meszaros has missed most of the month with a back injury and has just had surgery which will keep him out for a while.
But they’ve gotten good work from trade deadline pickup Nick Grossmann, as well as Flyer vets Brayden Coburn and Matt Carle, while Andreas Lilja, who was a healthy scratch for a good part of the season after dealing with an ankle injury, has come in and done fine.
Here’s how the Flyers should line up on Saturday
Scott Hartnell, Claude Giroux, Jaromir Jagr
Danny Briere, Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds
Max Talbot, Sean Couturier, Jakub Voracek
Eric Wellwood, Matt Read, Zac Rinaldo
Nick Grossmann, Braydon Coburn
Matt Carle, Kimmo Timonen
Pavel Kubina, Andreas Lilja