Because he hadn't played in a game in more than six months, veteran NHL goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov wanted to use his brief stay with the Oklahoma City Barons to determine how close he is to being ready for the NHL.
The 33-year-old Russian netminder looked much more ready Saturday night, recording 25 saves in Oklahoma City's 4-1 win over Abbotsford at the Cox Convention Center.
“This was a great opportunity,” Bryzgalov said. “We worked hard all week to catch the train to see where we are and where my game is. Last night was kind of clumsy, as expected. Tonight was much better. But there are still some things I need to work at.”
The Philadelphia Flyers released Bryzgalov from the final seven years of a $51 million deal. Ten days ago, Bryzgalov signed a one-year, $1.7-million deal with the Oilers. He's uncertain whether he'll report to Edmonton on Monday or play with the Barons Tuesday in San Antonio.
“Obviously with (NHL) teams having played 20 games, I'm catching up,” Bryzgalov said. “I trained in the gym, but they were in training camp two months ago. I need to take more shots, have a heavier workload.”
It was a good test for Bryzgalov. Abbotsford entered Saturday's game riding a nine-game winning streak, owned the best record in the 30-team American Hockey League and has scored an AHL-high 64 goals.
The Heat scored five goals against Bryzgalov to rally for a win Friday night, but the goalie with 208 career NHL wins stopped all but one shot Saturday night to end Abbotsford's three-week-long winning streak.
“Bryz looked a lot more calm. He was more composed,” said Barons coach Todd Nelson. “He stood tall and made some big saves. I think he's on the right path on the way back.”
Barons center C.J. Stretch scored his second and third goals of the season late in the second period to give the Barons a 2-0 lead. Abbotsford's only goal was midway through the third period.
Linus Omark, OKC's leading scorer, scored his 10th of the season, a power-play goal with 8:12 to play. Ben Eager ended any possible drama with an empty-net goal with 1:33 left.
OKC's second line of Stretch, Austin Fyten and Andrew Miller played well in both games against Abbotsford. Fyten and Miller recorded assists on both of Stretch's goals.
Even if Saturday was his final AHL game, Bryzgalov enjoyed the experience.
“This is a great group of young guys that enjoy the game,” Bryzgalov said. “This was fun. This is a game we all love. I'm no different. When I was sitting at home, I missed it.”