Before tonight, the last time Ilya Bryzgalov made an NHL start was April 25. He was still with the Philadelphia Flyers then, in the second year of a nine-year, $51-million contract that would soon be bought out. Since then, he's been to the ECHL and back, landing in Edmonton, a city he once said was like the North Pole and had snow eight months of the year.
The Russian netminder's first appearance with the Oilers came in Monday's 5-1 loss to the Blackhawks, when he relieved Devan Dubnyk and stopped 12 of 13 shots. His first start for the team, though, was even better: Bryzgalov turned aside all of Nashville's 33 shots for a 3-0 win Thursday night.
Despite it being a great start for Bryz, it likely won't immediately lead to a run of starts. Dubnyk had allowed only three goals across three straight Oilers wins before breaking down against Chicago, one of the top teams in the league. Dubnyk was the NHL's third star just a week ago and is still the younger and hopefully more long-term option. Edmonton would prefer him to be the one to earn a contract extension beyond this season and will give him the opportunity to do so.
The Oilers next game is tomorrow night in Columbus, so it's likely Dubnyk will get right back at it. And if he can put up another good start against that struggling team, he'll probably be out there again Sunday in Dallas.
Bryzgalov's job in Edmonton is to be a safety net who pushes and threatens the starter - if he becomes the starter, there's been a breakdown in Edmonton's plans. But at least now he's given Oilers coach Dallas Eakins some confidence that he can turn to the Russian, which will make this goalie situation very interesting to watch.