“He’s so strong, and a big guy. That’s why he’s one of the best in the league and why he’s been one of the best forever.”
Briere said of Jagr or “JJ” as he called him: “He’s been amazing. He’s been fun to be around. He’s been very upbeat. He’s been working hard. He’s been a model for all the young guys we have, with how hard he’s been working. He comes into the rink, smiling almost every day, and that’s good to see. Obviously, I didn’t know what to expect too much when we signed him, but he’s been better than I expected, with his attitude off the ice, it’s been a great addition. It’s fun to have him back.”
IF IT’S PHILADELPHIA, THERE MUST BE A GOALIE CONTROVERSY: Or there was until this week, when Bryzgalov was cheered “Bryz, Bryz, Bryz,” by the home faithful Thursday, after posting his second shutout of the week. How happy was the Flyers’ room? It prompted not one, but two lines that qualify as quote of the week material (all via the Philadelphia Inquirer).
From Scott Hartnell, who now leads the NHL in power-play goals: “I woke up there on the bench and thought we were in Winnipeg” (this of course a reference to the booing Bryzgalov receives in Winnipeg, where he said he didn’t want to play last year as a member of the Phoenix Coyotes.
From Bryzgalov: : “Brandon Manning was released by the Colts and he played tonight here, he stepped up and played very good” – this a reference to the Flyers’ rookie who was called up on an emergency basis after Kubina couldn’t go.
Bryzgalov is proving – finally – that really isn’t as inept as he’d seemed up until a couple of weeks ago, which should come as no surprise to anyone that watched him play all those years, first with Anaheim, then with Phoenix. He was having a poor year, and maybe coming out of it now. But he is not a bad goaltender.
Somebody in Philly must have finally tweaked to the reality that Bryzgalov is a unique personality, who responds far better to the carrot than the stick. Once he started trusting his instincts and his experience, Bryzgalov suddenly looked fine. But he’s never experienced a sports town such Philadelphia that can be flat-out mean when things go south, so it’s going to take everything he’s experienced this season, plus these last five weeks until the end of the regular season, for him to thicken that hide. Playoffs will be the ultimate test and playoffs weren’t so good to him last year in Phoenix, when he wasn’t the only player in the Coyotes’ dressing room to let rumours of the imminent departure to Winnipeg to distract them in the opening round against the Detroit Red Wings. In the meantime, the Flyers look as if they’ve figured it out – just let Bryz be Bryz and everything will okay. He’s just played too much good hockey for too long to think that he can lose it overnight.
THE INJURY WATCH: All that day-by-day monitoring of Crosby in Pittsburgh? It’s going on in Chicago too, with team captain Jonathan Toews, also out of the lineup with a concussion and missing now with for eight games and counting. Toews skated Thursday for the first time in two weeks and though there is no official timetable for his return, the thinking is that Toews could be back within a week or so, provided there are no further setbacks. Chicago is currently sixth in the Western Conference with 79 points, which is five ahead of the ninth-place Los Angeles Kings, who hold a game in hand. All it takes at this stage of the season is a bad week to slip right down to that playoff cut-off line – and the Blackhawks, a team that backed into postseason play a year ago on the final day, doesn’t want to go through that again.
Meanwhile, in Colorado, where the Avalanche have stayed in the race, they’ll need to press forward without Matt Duchene, who is likely out until the final week of the season with a right ankle sprain. As luck would have it, Duchene was injured late in a game that the Avalanche were winning easily – 7-1 over slumping Minnesota. Duchene earlier missed almost two months recovering from a knee injury in what has been a nightmare year for the flashy youngster.