Ilya Bryzgalov and Nikolai Khabibulin’s reversal of fortunes

Via Ken Baker –

It’s a tale of two Russians.

One’s a comeback story starring Edmonton’s 38-year-old Nikolai Khabibulin, who, after a lackluster 2010-11 season and then a summer in which he spent 15 days in an Arizona jail on a driving-under-the-influence charge, was not expected to do great things this year.

The other is a tragicomedy featuring Philly’s 31-year-old Ilya Bryzgalov, who spent his summer counting the zeros on his $51 million contract and being heralded as the next best Flyers goalie since Ron Hextall.

But, like any good piece of literature, these two tales have begun with a shocking plot twist: Bryzgalov’s early-season performance has been a Broad Street bust, while Khabibulin has boomed in Oil Town.

Khabibulin has thrived in every one of the above categories. Shots are disappearing into Khabibulin’s body, leaving few second-chance opportunities and he’s challenging shooters at the top of crease and moving laterally very well.

The Khabibulin success story goes back to him executing basic fundamentals, starting with him seeing — or visually “tracking” — the puck in a way that Bryzgalov has not done on a regular basis.

Philly’s capable goalie coach Jeff Reese (who, coincidentally, coached Khabibulin when he won the Cup for Tampa Bay in 2004) might want to run his goalie through simple drills that will force Bryzgalov to keep his eyes on the puck. Quick passing back and forth around the goal mouth, screen set-up situations and rapid-fire shooting drills are among the possible solutions to get a goalie tracking the puck more effectively.

In goaltending, your body follows where your eyes go. By getting his puck-tracking skills back in order, the 6-foot-3 Bryzgalov can get back to moving and blocking and challenging in the same way Khabibulin has performed this season.

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