Better-conditioned Ilya Bryzgalov returns to Ducks' goal tonight

Ducks goalie Ilya Bryzgalov has improved his fitness level since his season debut in Ottawa on Dec. 19

Ilya Bryzgalov said he believes his return as Ducks goalie tonight against the returning Stanley Cup-finalist New York Rangers will be a truer gauge of his ability.

Bryzgalov, 34, was hammered for six goals Dec. 19 in Ottawa, 10 days after being lured from free-agent limbo while living in New Jersey and signed by Anaheim.

“He’s in shape now, has had a lot of practices,” Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I thought after the Ottawa game we might’ve thrown him in too early. We wanted to make sure he was totally ready, for him and us."

“He’s practiced well and hard, is part of our team and we have to get him in sooner rather than later. What better way to test him than against the best?”

The Rangers, with stalwart Henrik Lundqvist in net, are on a 9-1 run.

Following previous backup John Gibson’s groin injury and subsequent minor-league assignment, Ducks starting goalie Frederik Andersen has played in 26 of the team’s last 27 games and is 22-6-5 through 41 games.

Bryzgalov, a 2000 Ducks’ draft pick who played last season for the Minnesota Wild, was hurriedly signed from a life of raising his family and coaching his son's hockey team.

“We used that time,” since the Ottawa loss “to get myself in good physical shape, with good movement,” Bryzgalov said. “We tried to bring me to good hockey condition. Lots of workouts, lots of time on ice with [goalie coach Dwayne Roloson]. I’ll look sharper. I’ve focused on drills, fixed some problems. [I] feel different inside, more calm."

“When you work and work hard, with every save, you put 25 cents in a bank. You get more confidence.”

Boudreau said the need for an effective backup is real, with three games Jan. 14-17, and four back-to-backs between Jan. 29 and March 4.

AS FOR GIBSON: At minor-league Norfolk, Gibson, 21, has played in six games. He’s 2-2-1 with a 2.36 goals-against average.

“He’s been great every time he’s been in … there hasn’t been a game he hasn’t stolen the show or been the difference,” Boudreau said. “He’s right on track of being the goalie everybody hopes he’ll be.”

Boudreau said the Ducks’ light January schedule will allow Gibson to play routinely while showing he’s fully recovered.

“The best way for young goalies to get better is to play, so this was a perfect, smart move,” Boudreau said.

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