The Coyotes practiced for more than an hour on Monday at the Ice Den in Scottsdale.
Afterward, I had a chance to chat with Goaltending Coach Sean Burke about goalies Ilya Bryzgalov and Jason LaBarbera, and how each has struggled the past few outings; Bryzgalov has posted a .861 save percentage in three games since returning from an upper-body injury and LaBarbera allowed six goals on Sunday in a loss to Minnesota. It was a conversation I never had to have with Burke last season as both goalies avoided funks in the team’s first playoff season since 2002.
So, I asked Burke, what’s going on with the goalies?
“There’s just a little issue with confidence, like there is for the whole team,” Burke said. “We’ve been a little less consistent than we were last year. It’s funny in this game, when you’re not having success, it’s such a fine line between what you’re doing (now) compared to when you were having success. You’re never as bad as you think. That’s really the case right now. Our goalies, their game is not that far off where it needs to be. It’s just that it’s not good enough, with everything else going on right now, to make up for it. We’ve given up too many goals this year. We’ve done that all season long and that’s a combination of goaltending and the way we’ve defended. For the goalies, it’s just a matter of getting back to where they’re confident in their game, and no matter what else is going on, they stick to that same game plan that they did last year. Last year, that’s what worked for them. We never changed our mind-set no matter what happened. Now it’s just a little bit less confident and we have to get back to where we’re more confident in our game.”
Bryzgalov, the runner-up in the Vezina Trophy voting last season, suffered an upper-body injury on Dec. 15 vs. New Jersey and missed five games.
“It’s always tough to come back from an injury because your game isn’t going to be right there at the top of it and if you don’t win those games you start to doubt yourself a little bit,” Burke said. “Like any other player, at the end of the day the difference between the top players and the rest is the top players believe you have to go out there believing you’re going to stop every shot. I think he’s got to get back to that attitude where he’s going to compete hard on every shot and believes he’s going to stop every shot.”
I then asked Burke if he’s been playing the role of goalie psychologist the past few days or if he’s kept the same coaching approach as when times were better.
“It’s a fine line,” Burke said. “I’m not worried about their game. What I am worried about is that as the season has moved along here we’ve been too inconsistent. And that’s been an issue from the goal right on out… But we just need better-than-good goaltending, and that really is the formula for most teams in the league so we’re no different. Our expectations of our guys are no higher than most teams’ expectations of their goaltenders. We just know that if we don’t get it we’re going to have a tough time making the playoffs. If we do get it, like we did last year and everything else comes into place, we can be a really, really good hockey team.”
Reach Dave Vest at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @davest4yotes. For information on upcoming Phoenix Coyotes games, please visit http://coyotes.nhl.com