Sergei Bobrovsky, Philadelphia and Patience
Last weeks NHL’s Three Stars likely won’t be one too fondly remembered by Philadelphia fans; as two former Flyers and one of their most hated opponents took the honours.
Whilst the natural rivalry between the Flyers and Pens ensures Sidney Crosby will receive little affection from the City of Brotherly Love, Jeff Carter’s six goals in four outings will also leave a bitter taste after the big forwards streaky play and controversial off ice habits left many feeling he never truly flourished in the orange and black.
The real kicker though may be seeing former netminder Sergei Bobrovsky take the First Star for the week ending March 10th.
Bobrovsky recorded four wins, posted a GAA below 1 goal per game and an notched an impressive .972 save percentage as the Blue Jackets went on a five game winning streak. What’s more is that the Russian puck stopper has an impressive .923 save percentage for the season and a not too shabby 2.19 GAA on a team most had pegged to finish dead last this season.
The 24-year old is starting to establishing himself as a legitimate number 1 NHL goaltender in Ohio, a far cry from 12 months ago when he had been shunted back to the bench behind Ilya Bryzgalov and was enduring a disappointing sophmore campaign.
The Novokuznetsk natives tale is almost the quintessential Philadelphia Flyers goaltending story. And I don’t mean that in a good way. Bright start before being railroaded out of town.
During his rookie season he played 54 games and went 28-13-8, posting respectable numbers and looking like a potential number 1 for a franchise that has struggled to fill the position since Ron Hextall retired.
He seemed to have edged ahead of Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher in the pecking order and was enjoying the plaudits so often lavished on the ‘in form’ in Philadelphia. Come the post season and the ghost of Flyers goaltending past apparently spooked the coaching staff which led to a series of mind boggling changes throughout the play-offs which saw Bobrovsky, Leighton and Boucher all flipped in and out of the crease like some bizarre Benny Hill sketch.
The stability the franchise seemed to have afforded Bobrovsky during the regular season disappeared as he featured in just six games, going 0-2.
The young Russian faired little better in his sophmore year. Call it the sophmore curse, call it a knock on of halving the number of games played; some goalies are better suited to heavier work loads. Either way Bobrovsky was ‘relegated’ to the backup spot, as the Flyers spent big to bring Ilya Bryzgalov to town, and his play took a step back.
A tough season led to a summer trade to Columbus, drawing a line under his Flyers career after just 83 games and 7 play-off appearances.
From potential franchise #1 to traded in 24 months – impressive by any standards.
It’s almost a cliché in Philadelphia now to hail the new starting goaltender as ‘the solution’, only to tear him down after a rough patch. Bryzgalov had, and still has, it. Cechmanek had it. Robert Esche. Antero Niittymaki. Do I need to go on?
‘Patience’ and ‘netminder’ are not words that go in the same sentence in Philadelphia.
I’m not sure if it is out of a desperate desire to finally find a legitimate number 1, or it is simply that kind of city where instant success is demanded. Maybe Ilya Bryzgalov’s famous NHL 24/7 quote had the right of it – “They hate the goalie there”. It’s an inconvenience that just has to be addressed; but doesn’t need a lot of money or time invested in it.
But you only need to look at Carey Price in Montreal to understand the value of remaining patient with a young goalie, and the benefits it can bring. Price burst on to the scene, not disimilar to the way Bobrovsky did in many respects. Price then regressed; but instead of throwing him under the bus Montreal remained patient and kept the faith and now has one of the best goalies in the NHL.
One can only wonder what might have been had Bobrovsky maintained the support of the Flyers brass, been guided through the tough times. They’d probably be spending a hell of a lot less on goaltending for starters….