Philadelphia Flyers netminder Sergei Bobrovsky has been the talk of the NHL for most of the first half of the season. The out-of-nowhere sensation has put up top-20 numbers in wins, save percentage and goals-against average and showed enough in a short amount of time that the Flyers were comfortable waiving veteran Michael Leighton.
With high expectations in a city notoriously starved for a savior in net, you’d think the pressure would be on ‘SpongeBob,’ (you have to admit, he does soak up those pucks), but the fact his first language is Russian may be helping matters.
“In July we had a rookie camp and he speaks a lot more English now than he did then,” said goalie coach Jeff Reese. “It’s very good now and it’s going to get better. A bigger concern was his interaction with his defensemen on the ice. He wants to talk to them, he wants to communicate better.”
Which may be one of Bobrovsky’s bigger projects as time goes on. Still acclimating himself to NHL rinks, the Flyers would like him to be more aggressive playing the puck and knowing when to come out from the crease. Other than that, it’s been all smiles.
“He’s very athletic,” Reese said. “He has decent size and really tracks the puck well when he’s on his game. He’s very flexible, very good down low, technically he was very good and he has great hockey sense.”
But getting to know Bobrovsky personally is still a work in progress, even if teaching him technical lessons has worked.
“I can act out things that I want him to do,” Reese said, “but I’d like to have a sit-down conversation with him about his family; it would be nice to do that.”
Bobrovsky, 22, recently had his family over from Russia, which certainly helped alleviate some of the pressures of NHL life, but language barrier or not, it would be folly to think he doesn’t know what’s going on in the worlds of media and fandom.
“He knows there was enough of a buzz when he started,” said Chico Resch, an analyst for the MSG Network and former Flyers goalie himself. “We start carrying out that platter so quickly, because it’s fun.”
That the city is Philly, where they still carry a torch for Ron Hextall, only ups the excitement.
“They’re desperate to crown a king goalie, no question,” Resch said. “But what has helped him is the emergence of Brian Boucher.”
Indeed, it’s not a one-goalie show in Philadelphia and Bobrovsky has had a veteran beside him to take some of the weight. But unlike Boucher, Bobrovsky was a mystery to his own goalie coach before coming across.
“I saw some tape from last year and that was it,” Reese said. “Our scouts deserve a lot of credit. He was pretty far north of Moscow and I don’t know if his team was very good. He was facing a lot of shots and not winning too much. I don’t know if he got looked at too much.”
Fortunately for the faithful, the Flyers looked at Bobrovsky just enough and now he’s paying them back for doing their homework.
This article originally appeared in the Jan. 31 edition of The Hockey News.