What About Bob?

Sergei Bobrovsky (often referred to as ‘Bob’ by his Columbus Blue Jackets teammates), last season’s reigning Vezina Trophy – the National Hockey League’s (NHL’s) Best Goaltender Award – recipient has struggled to recapture the form that garnered goaltending’s most sought-after prize.  Bobrovsky was pulled after surrendering 3 goals in just over one period (23 minutes) of action and 13 shots attempted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in CONSOL Energy Center on Friday night.  Given Bobrovsky’s struggles, last night and also having to face the potent Penguins offensive attack on consecutive nights of a home-and-home series, Columbus Blue Jackets head coach Todd Richards opted to start backup goalie Curtis McElhinney.

There is a common adage that is well-known to those who follow the Columbus Blue Jackets closely:  as Bob (Bobrovsky) goes, so go the Blue Jackets.  And for a team who often struggles to produce goal-scoring support for their goaltenders, Bobrovsky’s struggles have their faithful followers quite concerned.  Add to that a less-than-stellar 5-7-0 record coming into tonight’s action and you have the makings for some fans of panic.

And while it’s a fact that Bobrovsky has to play far better than he has during the past two games – Bobrovsky has posted a Goals Against Average (GAA) of 5.12 and a Save% of .844 – if you’re using Bobrovsky’s stellar campaign of last season as a measuring stick, there is some solace that his numbers are almost identical to those at the same point, last season.

Like this season, Bobrovsky was pulled after a dismal outing against the St. Louis Blues in his 5th start of the 2012-13 season.  His statistics after 11 starts (623 minutes in goal) during that season were as follows:  GAA – 2.78; Save% – .906.  For this season, after the same amount of games/starts, here are his statistics for 11 games (620 minutes) of the 2013-14 season: GAA – 2.79; Save% – .910.

From the looks of it, it appears that Bobrovsky could just be a slow starter; however, there is one glaring statistic that stands out:  the Blue Jackets defense that plays in front of Bobrovsky has not done a great job of directing the traffic in front of their starting netminder.  During the same period of time, last season, the Blue Jackets surrendered approximately 28 shots per game.  For this season, the Blue Jackets are allowing over 32 shots per game.

One variable to consider should Bobrovsky struggle in his games against Eastern Conference, particularly the new Metropolitan Division opponents:  during Bobrovsky’s rookie year with the Philadelphia Flyers, while he was outstanding during the first 2/3rds of the year, he began to struggle against those same opponents for the remainder of that year and the year that followed, although he played in a limited capacity as he was the backup to Ilya Bryzgalov.  This variable is akin to the old baseball theory pertaining to a rookie pitcher or batter: the old ‘once around the league’ theory.  This theory is based upon the premise that, once the rest of the league figures a player’s weaknesses or tendencies, they can exploit them until the player – and the great ones usually do – adapt and revise their game.

However, what does work in Bobrovsky’s favor is his stellar workhorse and blue-collar approach to hone and improve his craft.  The Blue Jackets goaltending coach, Ian Clark, Vancouver Canucks former goalie coach for Roberto Luongo, has often marveled at his work ethic, and his abilities and resiliency to overcome obstacles and downturns in performance.

What could also help Bobrovsky’s performance, as was the case, last season when he shared netminding duties with former Blue Jackets goalie Steve Mason, would be to have a backup goalie to push him into performing at his highest level.  Curtis McElhinney, a long-time backup to Mika Kiprusoff in Calgary and Jonas Hiller in Anaheim, has been used to playing sparingly behind two of the great workhorses in recent memory.  Although Bobrovsky’s Vezina-winning season was spectacular, it was done in a lockout-shortened season, with somewhat split duties so it will be worth watching if Bobrovsky can handle the workhorse load over a full, 82-game season.  So, should the Blue Jackets find themselves in the midst of a playoff hunt, it will be interesting to see if General Manager (GM) Jarmo Kekalainen might make a backup acquisition during the NHL’s trade deadline should McElhinney not provide the proper push for Bobrovsky.

Another point worth noting in comparing Bobrovsky’s slow start, last season to this season: it was after his 11th start when Bobrovsky really took off, posting a 1.68 GAA and a sublime Save% of .947.

But, the Blue Jackets faithful can only hope that Bobrovsky finds his groove sooner than later in order to position themselves for the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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  1. Spectors Hockey | NHL Blog Beat – Monday, November 4, 2013. - November 4, 2013

    […] INSIDE HOCKEY: Ed Cmar examines Sergei Bobrovsky’s slow start this season. […]