Tuesday, October 13, 2009

0.984

If that's your body temperature, you are feeling perfectly normal.

If it’s your score on the big test, you feel pretty good.

And if it happens to be your goals allowed average, you’re on top of the world. That's just filthy. And right now, that’s Ilya Brzygalov’s goals allowed average

Very glossy stuff. The kind of goaltending that the franchise desperately needs to be successful this year. And make no mistake; Bryz is the most important member of the Phoenix Coyotes. That's due in large part to him being the most variable part of the Coyotes equation.

Ilya is a lot like the little girl with the curl. When he's good, he can be very, very good. And when he's bad, he can be just brutal.

And so far this year he has been very, very good. 4 goals allowed in 4+ games including shutouts at Pittsburgh and San Jose. That is an impressive body of work. Ilya is working behind the tight checking system that Dave Tippett and Ulf Samuelsson have instituted. He also has the benefit of a deep and experienced defense in front of him. But he’s also been on top of his game with smart and consistent positioning complimenting his always great athleticism.

That’s the way it will need to be in Phoenix this year. Fire wagon hockey is a recipe for failure for this team. While there is much hope that young players will improve as the year goes on, there’s not much chance the Coyotes will score a lot of goals this year. 8-4 games are not in the best interests of the franchise.

When Bryz first arrived in Phoenix in 2007, he went on a tear that propelled the Coyotes into playoff contention. His first two months in the desert was some of the best goaltending this franchise has seen. It was enough to earn him a 3 year $12MM contract. And it gave the franchise a backbone it had lacked since Nik Khabibulin had walked three years earlier.

It was a streak reminiscent of the 2006 playoffs, when he carried the Mighty Ducks through a couple of rounds after replacing JS Giguere in the nets.

Much like the clock striking midnight in 2006, Bryz faltered down the stretch in 2008. And last year he had a real up and down season. More down than up. He was so bad that hockey's nicest man, Wayne Gretzky, pulled him from one game after just two shots (and two goals) and several times called him out in public. On a team with a small margin for error, Bryzgalov did not look like a franchise goaltender on way too many nights.

Long before I started the WHX, I was talking about the team's goaltending situation on talk radio and other message boards. I've never been comfortable with Bryz. Some nights he looks like a million bucks. Other nights, you were lucky to get change for your dollar. That kind of goaltending usually means the only action you will be seeing in April is a tee time.

Don Maloney also wavered in his faith. Last year at the trade deadline, a deal that would have sent Bryz to Philadelphia was seriously discussed. In fact, one NHL team official told me that the only thing that kept it from happening was the Flyers perennial salary cap problems. That may or may not be true but the fact is that the Coyotes surely had second thoughts about their franchise goaltender.

So for better or worse, Bryz is back in Phoenix this year. And so far, it’s for the better. Way better. No one expects his goals allowed average to stay so low. Or his save percentage so high. But what would be reasonable to expect is that he keep the Coyotes in the majority of the 65 or so games he will play this year. That’s what a $4MM goaltender should be able to deliver.

And if he does, he’ll keep the Coyotes in a playoff race that they desperately need to be a part of.

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