Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Anaheim Goaltenders

When one of your goalies has a Conn Smythe trophy to his credit and played well enough this season that he deserved a spot in the All Star Game but was injured at the time, it should be obvious who you play as your number one goalie come playoff time. However, in Anaheim it's not that simple. Jean-Sebastien Giguere has the Conn Smythe and All Star credentials and was the Anaheim number one goalie most of the season, but he is not being used as the number one goalie come playoff time. Ilya Bryzgalov is. Bryzgalov is no slouch in net either, but he did not have as good a season as Giguere. To his credit, Bryzgalov had a great playoff last year and actually posted a better goals against average (and roughly the same saves percentage) in the 2006 playoff than Giguere did in his 2003 Conn Smythe win. Anaheim has two solid goalies and cannot go wrong with either in net at playoff time.

Nevertheless, most fans were surprised to see Bryzgalov as the number one goalie this year. It appears that Anaheim coach, Randy Carlyle, chose to ride the hot hand. At the end of the season, Giguere had been away attending to the birth of his son, so Bryzgalov played the final three games of the year. He played well in those games posting a .933 saves percentage and a 1.90 GAA in them. So, Randy Carlyle decided to stick with the hot hand in the playoffs. So far it has worked. Anaheim is the first team that has a chance to eliminate their opponents from the post season.

This isn't the first time that Carlyle has chosen to use his nominally backup goalie in playoff time when he is hot. In the 2005 AHL playoffs while coaching the Manitoba Moose, Carlyle used backup goalie Wade Flaherty instead of starter Alex Auld and the team went to the semi-finals.

Anaheim has the best two goalie system in the NHL right now. They are doing very well with Ilya Bryzgalov in goal, but I am surprised that they have not used Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

It could be an organizational decision as well. Giguere is a UFA after the season and it would not surprise me if they are playing Bryzgalov to see if he can do the job and is ready to be the sole #1 guy next year. If he succeeds there would be no reason to pay big bucks to keep Giguere. If he failed they may decide to either re-sign Giguere or another suitably qualified starter. Either way it made sense to play Bryzgalov and see if he can do the job.
If you pick one goalie over another for contract reasons in the playoffs, then you are an idiot. In the playoffs you want to win and not hold back for stupid reasons like that. I do not believe Brian Burke or anyone else in Anaheim would do anything that idiotic.

If you want to see if Bryzgalov can handle the number one job you give him a run in January or something where the stakes are not so high.
I'm as shocked by the move as anybody, but I gotta admit the results look great.

Bryzgalov is a crazy Russian indeed, but if he's willing to step up in big games, so much the better.

His postseason GAA is better than a goal lower than his regular season GAA, and his save percentage is well-improved in the playoffs as well.

Go figure (and keep it up, Bryz).
I would agree with you that it would be a stupid move if Bryzgalov had zero experience or was a substantially lesser goalie than Giguere, but neither of those are the case. Bryzgalov played great in the playoffs last year and had a good regular season. I don't think it was a high risk move to put Bryzgalov, the goalie of the future, in goal and have him on a short leash if he struggles. It is actually in my mind a smart move and though I dislike Burke, I think he is smart enough and forward thinking enough to make such a move. Those not willing to take risks or make bold moves are not going to succeed in the NHL.
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