In the first of a three part series, we are going to look at the state of the Columbus Blue Jackets goaltending situation for the upcoming year.
If there has been one very bright spot on the Blue Jackets in the last 2 seasons, it has been their goaltending. Sergei Bobrovsky has come in and provided a level of consistency rarely seen in the history of this franchise. He almost single handily carried the Jackets to the playoffs two seasons ago. His effort that season won him a Vezina Trophy for most outstanding goaltender. Then Bobrovsky followed that up by leading his team into the playoffs, only to see them be eliminated in the First Round by the Pittsburgh Penguins. It is very clear who the number one goaltender in Columbus is. But that doesn’t come without questions.
Since the beginning of the 1981 season, there are only two goaltenders that have won a Vezina Trophy and have never won a playoff series in their career. One is Jim Carey in 1995-1996. The other is Sergei Bobrovsky in 2012-2013. In fact, Bobrovsky is only 2-6 in his playoff career, with both wins coming this past season against the Penguins. This does beg the question: Is Sergei Bobrovsky ready to take the next step and lead his team to playoff series wins? Do the Blue Jackets have championship caliber goaltending? Let’s now take a look at some factors that could help us answer this question.
The beginning of the 2014-2015 season will mark Bobrovsky’s 5th season in the league, and 3rd with the Blue Jackets. Since leaving the Flyers, his numbers have improved. After going 21-11-6 in 2012-2013, Bobrovsky won a career high 32 games last season. He did that playing in only 58 games. He was limited by a strained groin that kept him out 14 games in December and January. To put last season in perspective, Bobrovsky finished the year 22-9-3 after returning from the injury. A sign of a great goaltender is one who can close the season strong. For two seasons now, Bobrovsky has done just that, proving that he can win when the games mean more. In fact, Bobrovsky is an astounding 31-10-5 in March and April combined the last two seasons. He also turns 26 in September. It’s no wonder that the Blue Jackets have already started exploratory contract talks with Bobrovsky in an effort to sign him long term.
The Penguins Series
The Blue Jackets lost a hard fought, six game series to the Pittsburgh Penguins this past season. Goaltending was not the reason the Blue Jackets lost this series. Bobrovsky did everything he could to keep Columbus in the series. Both victories came in overtime. Bobrovsky proved that he can make the big save when it mattered the most. You could tell that he was gaining more confidence with every save. Although it didn’t result in winning the series, the intangibles were still there. He was steady, and always gave his team a chance to win. That experience will certainly benefit him in the future. He showed that he could handle the extra pressure that goaltending in the playoffs can bring.
The Right Fit
Certain goaltenders flourish when they are put in the right situation. Bobrovsky is a prime example of this. He started his career with the Philadelphia Flyers. He won the Calder Trophy for Rookie of the Year in 2010-2011. Then he ran into a tough sophomore season, causing him to be traded to Columbus. As a result, he went from a very tough situation in Philadelphia, and was given a fresh start. The style of hockey the Blue Jackets play is perfect for what Bobrovsky likes to do. He plays big in the net, and is sound in his positioning. When things are clicking for Columbus, it is tough to score on them. Bobrovsky is the right fit in this system.
— Rob Mixer (@RobMixer) April 4, 2014
Every great goaltender needs an occasional day off. When Bobrovsky is not starting, Curtis McElhinney is. He became a very important piece of the Blue Jackets season last December when Bobrovsky was injured. He held his own in net, going 10-11-1 on the season with a .909 save percentage. The season could have easily been lost during this time. McElhinney’s performance earned him a new one year contract for this season to be the Blue Jackets backup. There was some talk prior to free agency that the Jackets may try to go after a veteran backup. They stuck with McElhinney. If Bobrovsky needs a night off, or gets injured, will McElhinney be able to keep the team steady? He proved last year he could. Can he do it this year with the team having more expectations?
Sergei Bobrovsky is the backbone to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Normally when Bobrovsky does well, the team follows his lead. The Jackets are in great shape as an organization when it comes to their goaltending. Will this finally be the year that the franchise breaks through and wins their first ever playoff series? If they do, the main reason will be Bobrovsky, and the steadiness he brings.