Monday, January 16, 2012

Flyers net problem has little to do with goalies

by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor

Bryzgalov sucks. He's not worth the money. He can't make the big saves.

Bobrovsky rocks! He plays aggressive hockey. The defense plays better in front
of him.

#TeamBob or #TeamBryz? Really people?

This is what it's come to, legions of Flyers fans turning into hockey's version of teen girls squealing over the two leads of a vampire movie?

Here's where I hand it to our Fearless Leader, John McMullen. Last Spring, he wrote a column excoriating head coach Peter Laviolette for his handling of the goaltending in the Flyers' seven-game first-round win over Buffalo.

It wasn't the right kind of history despite advancing, as the 1988 Detroit Red Wings were the last team in the NHL to win a best-of-seven by using three different starters.

At the time, I said that Laviolette shouldn't come under fire because all three guys (Bobrovsky, Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton) weren't playing up to snuff and, needing four wins in seven games, he had to do what he felt was right at the time to win.

But things have changed. As of last Monday night, Laviolette no longer should receive the benefit of the doubt. I admit J-Mac was right, and showed the proper foresight while I hedged. Point: editor.

It appears there's no good answer why Lavi is treating the Number One Guy, the one who was paid $51 million over nine years, like a rag doll over bad starts. I suspect it's because he doesn't have a clue what he's doing back there. Allow me to translate: "riding the hot hand" is short for "I can't be trusted to stick with the main man so let me throw everything into turmoil by taking things game-to-game and making it impossible
for either guy to find a rhythm."

This last week alone highlights the problem.

First, Bryzgalov gets the start at home on Saturday and makes 35 saves in a 3-2 OT win against the Senators. That, plus barely surviving the Blackhawks two days earlier earns him a third straight start.

But the next night in Ottawa, obvious defensive breakdowns against a veteran-laden, offensive-minded team costs him five goals on 37 shots in a 6-4 loss.

So what happens? Bryz gets the hook and Bobrovsky gets the benefit of two softies in Raleigh and Uniondale. Let's not forget how he was 6-0 lifetime against the Islanders coming in. And he wins both, by margins of 2-1 and 3-2 with a combined 68 stops.

But then, despite these victories, Bob is suddenly left out in the cold and Bryz gets the nod. Flyers lose, 4-2, in Nashville on Saturday as the money man makes only 21 saves and the daily drama unfolds once again.

The constant indecision and lack of consistency shown here is a slippery slope. What if the Flyers start going weird and alternating wins and losses each time out? Does the starting situation become nothing more than a checker board? Who gets to shout "King me" in the end after all the squares have been jumped?

No matter how you justify the decisions Laviolette has made, they're mostly of the knee-jerk variety.

He's breaking a cardinal rule of the crease: the top guy is the top guy for a reason, and the top guy has to have the majority of the starts no matter what happens. Bryzgalov needs to get two-thirds of the action and Bobrovsky one-third.

All the noise about how the backline plays for one and not the other can be quieted by giving Bryzgalov the time to acclimate himself -- a chance everyone's hero Bobrovsky was afforded in spades last year. That's how Bob can play the way he does now, and that's how Bryz will
perform -- but time has to be provided. It's gone Looney Tunes after only a half season.

Rabbit Season. Duck Season. He doesn't have to start you now. BLAM!

Simply put, the way things have been handled this year already are the things of which "goaltending controversies" are made. Laviolette needs only to look in the mirror for a potential solution.

He has to understand that this is not a life-and-death, lose-and-you're-out postseason. There are 82 games on the slate over six months, and managing in such tiny increments benefits no one. If only the master of the time out could call one on himself and get back on track.

But it's clear he doesn't see this method as the major part of the madness. Add to that the encroaching dislike of Bryzgalov that borders on insanity from an irrationally-impatient fan base and it all just feeds the beast.

This week, the Wild and Islanders come to call on Tuesday and Thursday, then the scene heads north to Newark on Saturday afternoon before landing back here on Sunday afternoon for a date with the Bruins.

Common sense calls for Bryzgalov to draw Minnesota, New Jersey and then Boston to test his mettle, with Bobrovsky taking another crack to extend his unbeaten streak against New York. But my spider sense tells me we'll be waiting with bated breath after each game to find out what's behind Door #1.

Yes, the pressure is on because the Flyers are performing beyond expectations in competing for home-ice advantage in the playoffs. That doesn't mean the head coach -- the one person above all who is supposed to have a grip on things -- should get swept up in the chaos and keep tinkering with the works.

If it continues, it won't be long until people wake up, take pity on the goaltenders and #TeamLavi won't have many backers after another late-season flame-out.
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