At multiple times during the 2014-15 Anaheim Ducks season injuries served as a big, flashing neon arrow pointing to the potential problem area highlighted by many before the start of the season- between the pipes. At differing times both Frederik Andersen and John Gibson would spend time out of the lineup with knocks, and though it was Gibson's early season injury that left the Ducks struggling, it was further exacerbated by a late November injury to Jason LaBarbera.
So in early December the call was placed to one of the dwindling original Mighty Ducks draft picks still in the NHL, and Ilya Bryzgalov answered to once more don the club colors. Seven years after being waived so he could pursue a career as a starter, the 2000 second round selection was coming off a 13-14 season where he filled a similar late season need for the Minnesota Wild. Bryzgalov helped the Wild make the playoffs going 7-1-3 and appeared in nine postseason games, but was not offered a contract out of the following training camp.
Signed on December 9, Bryzgalov began playing his way back in to form beginning with a stint in the AHL. He started a pair of home games for the Norfolk Admirals in their series against the Springfield Falcons, going 1-1-0 with a .915 save percentage as he conceded five times on 59 shots with one goal against coming on the power play and another shorthanded. Bryz would make his return to the NHL ice with the Ducks three days after his last appearance with Admirals as he came off the bench and allowed both a power play and even strength goal to Phil Kessel in the Ducks 6-2 road drubbing at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs on December 16.
Bryzgalov's first start of the season went little better, as he allowed six goals on 31 shots in another 6-2 loss, this time in Ottawa as the Senators feasted on a Ducks team at the end of a five-game, seven-day Canadian road swing. Andersen drew the next six starts before Bryzgalov made his first home appearance, starting in a 4-1 loss to the Rangers as he stopped 26 of 29 pucks faced. He earned his only win of the season making 14 saves in a 5-1 win over the Devils on January 16, but was again roasted on his starting end of a back-to-back as San Jose scored six times on 25 shots to chase him with 36:07 played on January 29. Bryz's finest appearance of the year came in helping the Ducks earn a point in a shootout loss to the Capitals on February 6, making 32 saves and forcing an Alex Ovechkin miss in the skills competition. His final appearance was a brief one as he allowed three goals on eight shots in a loss at the Panthers, before both he and the Ducks agreed to terminate his contract after he cleared waivers on February 26.
(Bryzgalov's 14-15 stats from hockeyDB.com)
For nostalgia sake it would've been a great story to see Bryzgalov stick around as a longer term answer to the Ducks backup spot during their injury issues, but it simply wasn't to be. Though four of the six starts came against playoff teams it became readily apparent that he was no longer able to keep up with the speed of the game, as the quicker opposition in particular blistered the back of his net. Bryz served as a momentary stopgap while Gibson recovered from injury, and after the game against Florida when faced with the option of a return to Norfolk decided to return home.
Ducks fans should fondly remember his first go around in Orange County, and it's appropriate to have the likely end of his NHL career come where he had his greatest triumphs. Anyone who owns a number 80 Bryzgalov jersey will never be given the #AwkwardDucks treatment around these parts; after all he did end up outscoring Bryan Allen in his final season in Ducks colors. Plus it's only a game, and he's a good guy.