The Flyers moved around core pieces and completely restructured the entire roster largely to make signing Ilya Bryzgalov to a huge contract possible and put an end to the team’s goaltending woes that have spanned since Ron Hextall’s departure. But Bryzgalov has done anything but that. The new supposed franchise goaltender has a 2.79 GAA and .900 SV % so far this season and not even a full year into his nine-year contract media and fans alike are wondering, if not insisting, that signing him was a major mistake.
Meanwhile in New York, Henrik Lundqvist continues where he’s left off. The Rangers are in first place in the conference and Henrik is of course as big of a decider in that as anybody. The few holes in his game that once held him back – proneness to letting in terrible goals and a mediocre glove hand – are now virtually non-existant.
Thus, it does not seem to be a thought-provoking statement that Henrik looks great in comparison to Bryzgalov; one is completely unable to do so much as hang on as starting goaltender for his club while one has been the backbone of his team for multiple years and is well on his way to a Vezina Trophy. Today Ilya Bryzgalov let in three goals on 13 shots and showed absolutely no heart before being pulled in favor of Sergei Bobrovsky. But something else he did today is what stood out to me and made me appreciate Henrik Lundqvist that much more. Keep reading to see what I mean.
The media has been hounding Bryzgalov (and rightfully so) for much of the season, trying to get answers from him on how he is feeling and what he thinks about his situation. After his particularly brutal performance today, Bryzgalov had this to say:
#Flyers Bryz ‘It’s easy to find a scapegoat … ‘We’re always losing because we have a bad goalie.,’ but I think it’s the wrong philosophy.’
— Randy Miller (@RandyJMiller) February 18, 2012
Now, to a certain extent Bryzgalov is correct. Goaltending is not at all the sole component preventing the Flyers from winning games. The team’s defense is unstable. The forwards aren’t very good in the defensive zone. There are questions of who the leaders are in the locker room.
But nonetheless, what does that matter?
Here is what Henrik Lundqvist had to say after the team’s home opener this season, which they lost to the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-2 and the entire team looked asleep.
“We were looking for a great start at home. They play with a lot of speed and energy. Going into the third, it felt like it was wide open. I have to be better. I know that.”
I have to be better. I know that. Up to that point the entire team was struggling and it showed in the standings. The defense looked miserable. The power play was irrelevant and offensively nobody was producing. If Lundqvist made any of these observations I don’t think a single person would disagree. Henrik Lundqvist was literally the last person on the team who deserved any blame for the team’s horrible start to the season. And what does Henrik have to say? “I have to be better. I know that.”
Ilya Bryzgalov will look to deflect any attention or blame. Earlier in the season he prohibited himself from speaking to reporters at all. Now he is trying to remove as much blame from himself as possible, and whether he deserves the blame he’s getting or not is completely irrelevant because it’s not what he should be thinking about. Watch any post-game in which the Rangers lose and you’ll see, if not hear the disappointment Henrik Lundqvist feels about his inability to get the Rangers a win; regardless of whether he completely blew or if he was the only reason the team was even in the game. The only thing Lundqvist thinks about is how he can be better. How he can improve. How he can do that much more to make the team succeed. If the media even softly hints that he might have played a part in a loss he’ll acknowledge his short-comings. And if a reporter implies he was at no fault at all he’ll still discuss what he needs to do to be better.
Mental toughness is just as important as anything else for a goaltender. Ilya Bryzgalov essentially admits he’s wilting under the pressure of being a goaltender in Philadelphia. Henrik Lundqvist focuses on absolutely nothing but doing as much as possible to lead the New York Rangers to a win. If anything, Henrik is unfair to himself. And that’s exactly why Henrik Lundqvist is as admirable of an athlete as there is currently in professional sports.