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.