Ilya Bryzgalov

Will Ilya Bryzgalov be the difference maker the Flyers are looking for?

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Let’s face it, Ilya Bryzgalov is the best goalie the Philadelphia Flyers have brought in to play in decades. Not since Ron Hextall in the early 90s have the Flyers had a big time number one goalie who could carry a team. After struggling in the playoffs last year with Sergei Bobrovsky, Brian Boucher, and Michael Leighton, Flyers GM Paul Holmgren decided it was time to correct a long-standing problem in Philadelphia at goalie.

Enter Ilya Bryzgalov to the situation, a guy who established himself as the top guy in Phoenix the last four seasons.  The kind of success he brought the Coyotes and the kind of statistics he piled up made him into one of the league’s best goalies. With that pedigree, Bryzgalov arrives in Philadelphia as a savior-like figure.

Should he be though? Jonathan Willis of Houses Of The Hockey breaks down his numbers and whether or not he’s better (or, gulp, worse) than what Bobrovsky and Boucher brought to the ice last year.

Since the NHL lockout, Bryzgalov’s 0.916 SV% ranks him eighth (min. 100 games), tied with figures like Ryan Miller and a hair back of Niklas Backstrom and Henrik Lundqvist.  Over just the last three seasons, that same 0.916 SV% places him 10th.  Last season, Bryzgalov ranked eighth among starters.  There’s a good deal of consistency in those numbers, which place Bryzgalov as a top-10 NHL goaltender.

The problem is that the Flyers, by and large, got pretty good goaltending from Sergei Bobrovsky and Brian Boucher last season.  A lack of consistency game-in and game-out cost Bobrovsky his starting job immediately when he faltered early in the playoffs, but his overall save percentage of 0.915 is in the same range as Bryzgalov’s career numbers, as was Boucher’s 0.916 SV%.  Those players faltered in the post-season, but then again so did Bryzgalov – he went 0-4 with a miserable 0.879 SV%.  I’m not inclined to harshly criticize Bryzgalov for those numbers (four games is too short a period to be basing judgement on) but neither am I inclined to dismiss the regular season results of Bobrovsky and Boucher because of their playoff struggles.

None of this is to say that Bryzgalov isn’t a much better goalie than Boucher, and probably a better one than Bobrovsky for that matter.  His career numbers are far superior to the former, and the latter is a bit of a question mark given that he’s played just a single NHL season.  Over the long haul, Bryzgalov is a good bet to outperform that duo.

Willis is a smart guy and great with breaking down the numbers but if there’s any shot that Bryzgalov turns out worse than how the Flyers’ duo performed last year, especially late in the season, Flyers fans are going to start gnawing off their arms come April. With Bryzgalov signing a nine-year, $51 million deal this summer the Flyers are hoping that Bryzgalov can sustain his great play for a long time.

The one problem to those big plans could be Bryzgalov’s age. At 31 years-old, asking him to stand tall for a long time in Philly could be asking a lot. After all, not all goalies play until they’re 40. Martin Brodeur will be 39 this season and has a Hall Of Fame résumé to back him up. Patrick Roy played until he was 37 and had an equally gaudy career. Dominik Hasek left the NHL at age 43 and continues to play professionally in Europe now at age 46. In other words, Bryzgalov’s long future isn’t guaranteed.

The one thing that will keep the hounds at bay for Bryzgalov in Philly will be to win the Stanley Cup. If he can bring Philly their first Cup since the mid-70s, something he’s eager to do, the rest of  his contract will end up looking like a “thank you” bonus. One thing is for sure, the expectations are high for Bryzgalov and it’s up to him and the rest of the team to help him live up to sky-high expectations.

Flames dominate the Jets to take over top spot in the Pacific Division

CALGARY, AB - DECEMBER 10: Dougie Hamilton #27 of the Calgary Flames celebrates after scoring his team's third goal against the Winnipeg Jets during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on December 10, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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Is there a changing of the guard in the Pacific Division?

It’s the middle of December and the Calgary Flames, now with six straight wins, lead the same division dominated last season by the California powers in Anaheim, San Jose and L.A. The Edmonton Oilers have been inconsistent at times this season but they are right there, too, one point back. Same goes for the Ducks. The Sharks and Kings are definitely in contention.

There is plenty of hockey remaining in the season. Plenty of chances for change in the NHL’s division standings, including in the Pacific. But there’s no denying the Flames are on an impressive run.

Late last month, they had a particularly frustrating loss to Philadelphia and coach Glen Gulutzan voiced his displeasure about it. They followed that up the next day with an overtime loss to the Islanders. Prior to that weekend, there had been rumblings about the future of Gulutzan with the club, despite being only a few months into his tenure.

But since then, the Flames have yet to lose. They continued their winning streak with a convincing 6-2 victory over the visiting Jets on Saturday.

Dougie Hamilton — remember all that trade speculation surrounding the Flames defenseman and Brian Burke’s classic response? — had two goals for Calgary. Chad Johnson was solid in net again. It was a pretty dominant performance all around.

Frustrating night for the Jets and it showed when Dustin Byfuglien dropped the gloves with Garnet Hathaway late in the third period.

There are more difficult tests ahead for Calgary.

The Flames face the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday and then the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday.

In previous seasons, a Friday night game between the Flames and Blue Jackets in the middle of December might not garner much interest. But they are both among the hottest teams in the league right now and it’s likely not many would’ve predicted that a short time ago.

Video: Perlini’s first NHL goal helps lift Coyotes over Predators

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 10:  Brendan Perlini #29 of the Arizona Coyotes reacts alongside Calle Jarnkrok #19 of the Nashville Predators after Perlini scored his first career goal during the second period of the NHL game at Gila River Arena on December 10, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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The Arizona Coyotes have moved out of last place in the NHL’s overall standings, courtesy a 4-1 win over the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

Minus forward Max Domi, placed on IR and expected to be out on a week-to-week basis, the Coyotes got a 44-save performance from goalie Mike Smith and recently recalled forward Brendan Perlini pitched in with his first career NHL goal.

That goal gave Arizona a 3-1 lead. Thanks to the play of Smith, the Coyotes wouldn’t relinquish the lead, snapping a six-game losing skid.

It wasn’t all good news for the Coyotes.

Defenseman Connor Murphy played only 4:12. He left the game with an upper-body injury and didn’t return. Per reports, Murphy is considered day-to-day at this point.

The Blue Jackets just keep on winning

COLUMBUS, OH - OCTOBER 15:  Zach Werenski #8 of the Columbus Blue Jackets is congratulated by Cam Atkinson #13 of the Columbus Blue Jackets after scoring his first career NHL goal during the third period of the game against the San Jose Sharks on October 15, 2016 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. San Jose defeated Columbus 3-2. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Jack Johnson, Cam Atkinson and Seth Jones each had a goal and an assist as the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the New York Islanders 6-2 on Saturday night for their sixth straight win.

Josh Anderson, Brandon Saad and Lukas Sedlak also scored for Columbus and Sergei Bobrovsky had 25 saves.

Josh Bailey and John Tavares scored for New York, which had earned a point in a season-high five straight games (4-0-1). Jaroslav Halak made 32 saves until he was pulled after the Blue Jackets scored four consecutive goals in the third period.

Anderson put Columbus ahead 3-2 at 2:19 when he picked off a defensive pass and banged it in from the slot seconds after coming onto the ice for his shift.

Saad, Sedlak and Jones scored in a 5-minute span to make it 6-2 with 5:37 to go.

New York’s third-string goalie Jean-Francois Berube then replaced Halak and stopped the one shot he faced in his season debut.

The Islanders came out quick and it took Columbus a while to get going. New York took a 1-0 lead 5:59 in when a defensive pass by the Blue Jackets’ Sam Gagner at the boards was deflected by Bailey, and the popup was bobbled by Bobrovsky into the net. Bailey was given credit for an unassisted goal.

The Blue Jackets tied it up on a power play with 6:01 left in the first when Johnson wound up from just inside the neutral zone and fired a bullet past Halak. It was Johnson’s first goal of the season.

Columbus’ Brandon Dubinsky and New York’s Travis Harmonic went to the penalty box for 5 minutes each when both threw down the gloves and threw punches near the end of the first quarter.

Columbus took a 2-1 lead when a speeding Atkinson took a pass from Johnson in the neutral zone and beat Halak on the breakaway 10:16 into the second. New York tied with 7:28 left in the period when Tavares lifted the puck over Bobrovsky’s pad from in front of the net.

The Blue Jackets took off in the third period.

After Anderson gave Columbus the lead for good, Saad made it 4-2 on a wrister from the high slot at 9:23.

Sedlak, who scored his first NHL goal on Friday night, scored another when he tapped in a loose puck with 7:21 to go. Jones capped it with just over 5 1/2 minutes remaining.

NHL schedules hearings for Stars’ Oleksiak, Sens’ Borowiecki after separate incidents

CALGARY, AB - NOVEMBER 10: Jamie Oleksiak #5 of the Dallas Stars in action against the Calgary Flames during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on November 10, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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Two NHL players will have disciplinary hearings Sunday with the league’s Department of Player Safety for separate incidents that occurred Saturday.

The league announced Saturday evening that Jamie Oleksiak of the Dallas Stars will have a hearing for an illegal hit to the head of Philly’s Chris VandeVelde during the third period of the Flyers’ win.

There was no penalty called on the play.

The league also announced that Ottawa Senators defenseman Mark Borowiecki will have a hearing Sunday for a boarding penalty he took against Kings forward Tyler Toffoli.

The incident occurred early in the first period. Borowiecki received a major penalty, but remained in the game. Toffoli left the game to undergo concussion protocol, but he did eventually return.