EDMONTON, Alberta — The persona that defined Ilya Bryzgalov for years apparently did not follow him to the plains of western Canada.
Penguins fans likely remember the goaltender from his days with the Philadelphia Flyers, when he got perhaps more attention for things he said than for what he did on the ice.
Remember the bears? When the Flyers and Penguins were set to meet in the 2012 playoffs, Bryzgalov said didn’t fear the star-studded Penguins; he only feared bears in the woods.
Then there were the clips from HBO’s 2011 hockey version of “24/7,” when Bryzgalov pondered the universe and compared his dog to a hot blonde.
Hard as it is to believe, Bryzgalov, 33, is talking less, saying the right things when he does talk publicly, and seems more focused on his goaltending with the Edmonton Oilers.
“I haven’t seen any of the character from ‘24/7,’ ” Oilers coach Dallas Eakins said Thursday. “He’s been basically all business.”
Eakins has not announced whether Bryzgalov or Devan Dubnyk will start tonight when the Oilers play host to the Penguins at Rexall Place.
There are indications it might be Dubnyk, although Bryzgalov seemingly has taken over the starting role with the Oilers. He has started nine of Edmonton’s past 12 games since returning in mid-December from a concussion that forced him to miss six games.
“I like Edmonton,” Bryzgalov said. “I like everything here. I’m feeling great here. I’m enjoying it.”
Asked about the Penguins, a team he would be familiar with from his seasons with the Flyers, Bryzgalov was all compliments, with no crazy comments.
“It’s a great team that they have,” he said. “They have All-Star players on their roster. They play fast. They’re dangerous. They have skill. It’s a very, very, very dangerous opponent.”
Bryzgalov, 33, has taken on the task of playing big brother to fellow Russian Nail Yakupov, a highly skilled 20-year-old winger who has had some trouble letting go of his youthful overexuberance or self-centeredness and has been benched for a game here and there by Eakins.
“We’re Russians. We’re on the same page,” Bryzgalov said. “We understand each other very well. We speak the same language. I try to help Nail if he needs something. He’s a young, talented player. He needs to learn some things, how to play in a men’s league, in the NHL. Here, there’s lot of structure. Lots of times the game depends not as much on the skills but how you execute the system.
“It’s always difficult to come to a different country, different culture, different language, different hockey, different system. You’ve got to adjust yourself, and sometimes it takes some time.”
Asked if that was something he went through, Bryzgalov wasn’t biting.
“It’s the same for every player,” he said.
Perhaps Bryzgalov’s new, more subdued outlook was shaped by his recent experiences. The Flyers bought out his long-term contract and must pay him $23 million over 14 years.
Out of work, if not out of money, Bryzgalov had a tryout with the Las Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL but was not signed. The Oilers plucked him out of unemployment in November, and he played in a couple of games for Oklahoma City of the American Hockey League before joining the Oilers.
Playing for one of the worst teams in the NHL, Bryzgalov is 3-6-2. He has a 3.20 goals-against average and a .905 save percentage.
Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who doesn’t know Bryzgalov, is an outgoing, affable sort. Even though his personality falls well on the side of conventional compared to Bryzgalov, Fleury understands that, from the outside, a quirky persona can be mistaken for something less than a full commitment on the ice.
“The things off-ice maybe don’t help you,” Fleury said. “On a team, everybody’s different. Everybody’s got different personalities. That being said, I think we’re here for what we do on the ice, not what we think, what we say off the ice.
“Your play has to speak for itself.”
Apparently, that’s what Bryzgalov is aiming for with Edmonton.
“I think he’s just really concerned about stopping the puck,” Oilers defenseman Andrew Ference said. “He hasn’t really been too outspoken or anything like that. He’s here to do his job, and I think that he’s up for the challenge of being a really good goaltender and concentrating on that.
“It’s just been pretty normal.”
Shelly Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1721 or Twitter @pgshelly.