Ilya Bryzgalov was one of the main reasons Phoenix made the playoffs in each of the past two seasons. Tonight, the Coyotes will be trying to score against their former No. 1 goaltender, as they visit Bryzgalov's Philadelphia Flyers for a battle at Wells Fargo Center.
After beginning his career in Anaheim, Bryzgalov joined the Coyotes during the 2007-08 season and he logged 257 appearances in his four years with Phoenix. In 2009, the Russian backstop helped the Coyotes make the postseason for the first time since 2002 and Phoenix returned to the playoffs last season.
Bryzgalov was set to become a free agent after last season, but the Flyers acquired his negotiating rights from Phoenix last June and signed the netminder to a nine-year, $51 million contract before he hit the open market.
Things didn't go smoothly for Bryzgalov at the start of his first season in Philadelphia, but he has been playing better lately. The 31-year-old is 4-0-1 over his last five starts and has yielded two goals or less in each of those games.
Bryzgalov, who is 7-4-2 with a disappointing .899 save percentage overall this year, is expected to get the start tonight after Sergei Bobrovsky was used Monday in a win over Carolina. It will mark Bryzgalov's first outing against the Coyotes since leaving the desert, but he compiled a 7-2-0 record and a 1.98 goals-against average against the Coyotes while a member of the Ducks.
Mike Smith has replaced Bryzgalov as Phoenix's No. 1 netminder and he has been doing an excellent job in that role. Smith is 8-2-3 with a .933 save percentage and 2.19 GAA this year and is 7-0-2 over his last nine starts.
Smith made 35 saves for Phoenix in Tuesday's shootout win in Toronto. He stopped both Maple Leaf shooters in the final phase, while Patrick O'Sullivan and Radim Vrbata tallied shootout scores in the 3-2 victory at Canada Centre.
Vrbata followed O'Sullivan's wrister by skating in slowly and making one deke before backhanding the puck past Ben Scrivens to seal the extra point.
"It was a turnover-fest that turned into a good game," Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett said. "We came here, we got two points and now it's time to move on."
Phoenix is 2-0 so far on a five-game road trip and has a strong 5-1-1 road record this season.
The Coyotes have played the last three games without veteran center Daymond Langkow, who left the team last week to deal with a death in the family. Langkow, who has three goals and five assists this year, will not join Phoenix for the rest of the road trip. He is expected to join the club when it hosts Anaheim on Wednesday.
The Flyers, who have also won two straight and three out of four, have earned a point in seven straight games, posting a 5-0-2 record over that stretch.
Philadelphia's most recent win came Monday in Raleigh, as Claude Giroux had two goals and an assist to lead the Flyers to a 5-3 decision over the Carolina Hurricanes. The victory ended a three-game road trip and improved the Flyers' record as the visitor this season to 6-1-1.
Chris Pronger had three assists while Matt Read added a goal and an assist for the Flyers. Bobrovsky stopped 17 shots for the win.
"We worked hard out there tonight," said Philadelphia head coach Peter Laviolette. "We kind of let things slip there for a bit and we have to work on that, finishing strong."
The Flyers, who are scheduled to play Saturday in Winnipeg, will alternate home and away games for the remainder of the month. Philadelphia is 4-3-2 as the host this season.
Phoenix has won two in a row against the Flyers and the Coyotes recorded an overtime win in Philadelphia last season. The Coyotes have claimed four of the last five matchups in this series overall and have taken two of the last three in Philly.