Reacting to Ilya Bryzgalov's turnaround

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 1: Ilya Bryzgalov #30 of the Philadelphia Flyers speaks to a reporter during practice for the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park on January 1, 2012 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images)

After last night's 3-0 win over the New Jersey Devils, in which Ilya Bryzgalov notched his third straight shutout, I noticed a lot of this sentiment around the Internets (you can click to enlarge if necessary):

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This person was not alone. There were many, many others who agreed with him.

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The notion here is that if you ever booed Ilya Bryzgalov, you hate him, you don't want him to succeed and thus are an awful hypocrite for ever even thinking about cheering for him. You can't boo a guy one night and then cheer for him another. Doing so means you're a bandwagoner or a hater or a gun-jumper.

No. No. No. No.

You're not any of those things if you booed Ilya Bryzgalov. You're not a bandwagoner. You're not a hater. You're not a gun-jumper or a hypocrite. You're a fan, and booing poor performances is what fans do, just as cheering great performances is what we do.

In fact, if you were really a bandwagoner or a hater, you probably would have just said walked away in December. The Sixers were playing well then, after all. Think the Eagles were too.

The rational part of us says that yeah, Ilya Bryzgalov isn't as bad as he played for the first half of this season. We knew all about his career numbers to date. He's a guy with enough of a track record in the NHL that we know his true talent level, and when you normalize for luck -- bad bounces inflating opposition shooting percentage and all that -- it's easy to come to the realization that he was eventually going to start playing better. He's not a bad goalie.

We can create any narrative around that we want -- the media was a distraction, the fans were a distraction, the contract was a distraction, he needed time to get used to the Eastern Conference or the new system, the defense is finally playing well in front of him, whatever -- but the fact is that for several months, Ilya Bryzgalov was playing bad hockey. Now, he's playing good hockey. We have reacted to this shift accordingly.

Booing a guy just means you care. It doesn't mean you hate him on a personal level or anything (although there are definitely exceptions ... people are idiots.) It means you're a fan, and since "We support you and think you'll turn this around but we aren't pleased with the way you're playing right now!" isn't exactly a clever in-game chant, we boo. In a crooked way, booing is showing support. If we didn't care, we'd just stop showing up. We'd stop visiting this blog. We'd find a new hobby.

There's nothing wrong with booing a player when they deserve the kick in the pants. There's nothing wrong with cheering them when they deserve the praise. Don't let anybody guilt you into thinking otherwise.

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