Los Angeles Kings v Phoenix Coyotes

Why prospective teams shouldn’t give up on Ilya Bryzgalov

When it comes to assessing a player’s performance in the playoffs, many people fixate on the results rather than why something happened.

Ilya Bryzgalov allowed two back-breaking goals to begin the Phoenix Coyotes’ potentially fatal Game 3 loss and both of them made the excellent Russian goalie look pretty bad. Let’s be honest, Bryzgalov hasn’t been able to follow up his great regular season play with outstanding work in the postseason, leading many to wonder if his pending free agent stock is plummeting.

One thing that people seem to overlook when discussing his playoff struggles: he faced the Detroit Red Wings the last two years, aka one of the NHL’s greatest offenses. The Red Wings were the second highest scoring team in the NHL this year, with their 261 goals only trailing the Vancouver Canucks by one.

Yes, there have been goalies who managed to shut down the Red Wings offense over the years, but let’s not forget that Jean-Sebastien Giguere (the guy who once played in front of Breezy in Anaheim) worked his miracles in the clutch-and-grab era.

Bryzgalov’s defense is hanging him out to dry.

As regrettable as Breezy’s series has been, his defense hasn’t exactly been world-class, either. Bryzgalov faced 101 shots in the last three games, meaning that Phoenix allowed an average of 33.6 shots per contest so far. To put that number in perspective, the Carolina Hurricanes allowed 33.2 shots per game during the 2010-11 season, the worst total in the NHL. While it’s true that the ‘Yotes also allowed 32.6 shots per game in the regular season, that tells me that Bryzgalov’s been a life preserver for a team that probably shouldn’t be in the playoffs in the first place.

To expect him to be superman every single game is unrealistic.

In these past two series, Bryzgalov allowed 12 goals in three games against Detroit in 2011 and 24 in seven contests in 2010. Those aren’t gorgeous numbers, but to call him a playoff “choker” is just short-sighted, especially when you consider how well he played behind a competent team in Anaheim.

Breezy actually put up outstanding postseason numbers on a good team.

He was astounding in 11 games played in 2005-06, earning six wins, three shutouts, an all-world 94.4 save percentage and 1.46 GAA. He was almost as good when he subbed for Giguere in the Ducks’ first round series during their 06-07 Cup win, earning three victories, a 92.2 save percentage and 2.25 GAA. Ultimately he gave way to Giguere’s seniority in those two playoff runs, but one could argue that Anaheim would have been A-OK with Breezy in net instead.

So what’s the basic takeaway? He’s actually been just fine in the small sample of playoff games he’s appeared in. Even including his sometimes-ugly numbers against the Red Wings, Bryzgalov has nice career playoff stats: a 91.9 save percentage and 2.45 GAA. The only number that’s mediocre is his 12-12 record, but that’s a stat that has as much to do with the team as it does with the goalie.

Smart GMs will see the big picture with Bryzgalov.

It’s reasonable to say that these last two series hurt Bryzgalov’s ability to make the kind of $5-$6 million salary that franchise goalies acquired before the 2010 correction/meltdown.* There will be many GMs who will totally pass judgment on Breezy, especially if they take the type of stance that Jay Feaster took toward Tomas Vokoun.

A savvy GM will consider the very real possibility that Bryzgalov helped a shaky team overachieve until it ran into the Red Wings buzz saw. That same general manager could save some money at the bargaining table even if he knows that his questionable stats are quite deceptive.

Ultimately, I actually think Bryzgalov should stick with the Coyotes. If he ventures out of that franchise (a more likely possibility if the team moves), then a team like Tampa Bay or Colorado would be wise to scoop him up. It could be a great choice, too, as long as they provide him with more than the threadbare supporting cast offered by Phoenix.

* – Your stance that the 2010 free agent goalie market was an example of self-correction or just a meltdown says a lot about how you think NHL netminders should be paid.

Bruins management failed to improve roster as planned

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After missing the playoffs for the second year in a row, the Boston Bruins went into the offseason with three major things on their to-do list:

1. Fix the defense.
2. Get a better back-up goalie.
3. Get “heavier” at right wing.

By the time the offseason was over, they’d:

1. Done nothing to fix the defense.
2. Signed Anton Khubodin to back up Tuukka Rask.
3. Signed David Backes.

In other words, Cam Neely, the Bruins’ president, and Don Sweeney, the general manager, went 1-for-3. Signing Backes made the B’s heavier on right wing. There’s no disputing that.

But the defense? It has 39-year-old Zdeno Chara on a top pairing with 20-year-old rookie Brandon Carlo. And it still has Adam McQuaid in a top-4 role.

That’s not meant to slight McQuaid. It is less about him than the two right-shot defensemen who have been traded away and not replaced: Johnny Boychuk and Dougie Hamilton.

The fact is, when the Bruins were winning championships and going to the Stanley Cup Final, McQuaid was a bottom-pairing guy. Since his role has been expanded, the Bruins have not made the playoffs.

Read more: The Bruins didn’t fix their defense, but Neely still expects improvement

Which brings us to the backup goalie. Khudobin was a bad signing, plain and simple. He went 1-5-1 with an .885 save percentage before he was dispatched to the minors — and, if you were paying attention, it was not a huge surprise that he failed to deliver. This is a goalie who hasn’t put up good NHL numbers since 2013-14. Heck, he spent most of last season in the AHL.

And make no mistake, for bubble teams like Boston, backup goaltending can be the difference between making and missing the playoffs. Not only does it cost wins when a bad backup plays, the coach’s reluctance to use his backup means more work for the starter. Consider: only three other goalies have started more games than Rask (37) has this season, and he has not looked particularly fresh in his last few outings.

That, finally, brings us to the head coach. Claude Julien has been on the job for almost a decade, and perhaps it’s time for a new voice with some new ideas. After all, the league is faster now, and these aren’t Milan Lucic‘s Bruins anymore. Sometimes, change can be a good thing.

But just remember — if Julien does, indeed, get fired — Bruins management had three things they wanted to fix over the summer, and they only fixed one of them.

And that’s not on the coach.

Related: Julien’s job reportedly in danger

They fixed the defense, but now poor offense is ‘killing’ the Bolts

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Two weeks ago, Lightning associate coach Rick Bowness said the team had lost its defensive mindset. His remarks came during a four-game losing streak in which the Bolts surrendered a whopping 22 goals.

Since then, things have tightened up considerably. Tampa Bay has only surrendered 10 goals over the last five games — which coincided with Ben Bishop‘s return from injury — but now, there’s a new problem at hand.

The Bolts can’t score.

“It’s not for a lack of trying, not for lack of chances,” head coach Jon Cooper said following Thursday’s 2-1 loss in San Jose, per the Tampa Bay times. “The shooting sights are off on the stick, too many missed nets.

“It’s killing us.”

After scoring four times in a win over Buffalo on Jan. 12, the Lightning offense has really dried up. They were only able to beat Sergei Bobrovsky once in a loss to Columbus on Jan. 13, then squeezed out a 2-1 win over the Kings on Monday.

Tampa then suffered consecutive 2-1 defeats in Anaheim (in OT) and San Jose.

All told, it has just five goals in the last four games.

One could point to all the missing bodies as a reason for the slump. Steven Stamkos‘ absence looms large. And while fellow injured forwards Ryan Callahan, J.T. Brown and Brayden Point aren’t elite offensive guys by any stretch, they were relied upon for depth production.

Not having Victor Hedman is a problem, too. The minute-munching blueliner generated plenty of offense from the back end, and is second only to Brent Burns in d-man scoring across the league.

This isn’t to say Tampa Bay is bereft of scoring options, though. Nikita Kucherov, Jonathan Drouin, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Alex Killorn were all in the lineup last night. Killorn had a terrific chance for an equalizer late in regulation, but sailed his shot from the slot wide of the net.

“It was a grade-A chance,” Killorn said, per the Times. “And I missed.”

Tampa Bay needs to figure this all out, and fast. While the Bolts are only three points back of Toronto for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, they’ve got to hurdle four teams — Philly, Carolina, Florida and New Jersey — to get there.

Thankfully, there’s some promise on the horizon. The Lightning are in Arizona tomorrow night, to play a Coyotes team that ranks 29th in the NHL in goals allowed.

Five team stats you may find interesting

St. Louis Blues goalie Jake Allen is slow to get up after giving up a goal to Washington Capitals' T.J. Oshie during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
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27.5 — Shots per game for the St. Louis Blues. Only one team, New Jersey (27.3), is averaging fewer. So while it’s true that goaltending has been their major issue, it’s also true that in the eight games since the Winter Classic, the Blues have averaged just 22.9 shots, and that’s not very many at all. Perhaps it’s related to the goaltending — i.e. they could be playing more conservatively in order to protect Jake Allen and Carter Hutton. But coach Ken Hitchcock said recently that Vladimir Tarasenko “is getting checked to death, and other people are responsible for creating the space for him. He’s trying to play against four guys right now. We need more participants in order to help him.” So it’s not all on the goalies. In his last six games, Tarasenko has no goals and just nine shots total.

58 — Goals scored by the Washington Capitals since Christmas. That’s an average of 4.5 per game. Only the Rangers (4.4) and Penguins (4.0) are averaging four goals or more in that time frame. Since Christmas, the Caps have been led in scoring by Alex Ovechkin (17 points); however, the resurgence of Evgeny Kuznetsov (15 points) has also been key. Kuznetsov only had 17 points in his first 32 games. He’s up to 32 in 45 now.

73.8% — The Buffalo Sabres’ penalty killing, which has been terrible. In fact, the Sabres are on pace to have the NHL’s worst PK of the salary-cap era:

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3 — Power-play goals for the Blue Jackets in their last eight games. In a related story, the Jackets are 3-5-0 in those eight games. “There’s gonna be times where it just doesn’t feel like it’s going in,” said captain Nick Foligno after last night’s 2-0 loss in Ottawa. Columbus went 0-for-3 with the man advantage against the Sens, who got a 42-save shutout from Mike Condon. The Jackets still have the NHL’s best power play (24.6%), but the Maple Leafs (24.1%) are catching up. The Leafs have scored 12 PP goals in their last 10 games.

14 — Games the Colorado Avalanche have lost by three goals or more, the most in the league. Just how bad are the Avs? Well, they’re 30th in goals for and 30th in goals against. And if they keep up their pace, they’ll be the worst team of the salary-cap era:

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Leafs claim Griffith off waivers… again

SUNRISE, FL - DECEMBER 29:  Seth Griffith #24 of the Florida Panthers takes a shot on Al Montoya #35 of the Montreal Canadiens during a game  at BB&T Center on December 29, 2016 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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Seth “suitcase” Griffith is off to join another team — a team he’s joined once already this season.

On Friday, the Leafs announced they’ve claimed Griffith off waivers, just two months after exposing him on the wire and losing him to Florida.

Toronto had originally acquired Griffith off — yup, you guessed it, waivers! — when the B’s cut him loose just prior to the start of the regular season.

The 23-year-old, who played under Leafs assistant GM Mark Hunter in OHL London, appeared in three games for Toronto this season, going pointless. Griffith had a bigger role in Florida — notching five assists in 21 games — but suffered a concussion earlier this month and, after recovering, was a healthy scratch for three straight games.

Per multiple sources, the Leafs are sending Griffith straight to their AHL affiliate, the Marlies.