For the Columbus Blue Jackets to be a successful hockey team, it really boils down to one player.
I am sure that some of you will think that I am talking about Artemi Panarin or may be even Cam Atkinson. While both Panarin and Atkinson are very important players for this hockey club and will be needed at their best for this team to win hockey games, the whole season still does not hinge on their play.
Rather, the season rides on their goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. Since joining the Blue Jackets in the 2012-13 season, Bobrovsky, 30, has been everything and more for this franchise.
The man they call Bob has won two Vezina Trophy’s as the league’s top goaltender, has gotten the team into the playoffs three times, and really helped put the Blue Jackets on the NHL map by making them a very competitive hockey team. It is his goaltending that put this franchise over the top in terms of them being a legitimate playoff contender.
Going into this season, however, there were many questions surrounding Bobrovsky. Some were about whether or not he would be traded at the deadline or go the UFA route at the end of the season while other questions were about what he is doing to remedy the problems he has in the playoffs.
While Bob probably won’t admit it, these things may have distracted him in the beginning of the season. He got off to a very slow start as he had trouble keeping the puck out of the net, struggled to establish consistency between the pipes, and actually looked like a player that was thinking about what could happen after this season rather then what was going on in front of him.
A good example of this was the month of October. In two games that month, Bobrovsky twice allowed eight goals, looking like a goaltender who was struggling to focus and find the game that made him so successful in the first place with this hockey club.
Fast forward to today and Bobrovsky was just named the NHL’s first star for the week of December 17. In fact, it could easily be said that his play that week set a new course for both himself and the team this season, a course that could once again make them a contender when it matters most.
In the week that he was named the NHL’s first star, Bobrovsky showed why he is a two-time winning Vezina Trophy winner and that at 30 years of age, he still has a few elite years left in him. It also probably showed that if he does go the UFA route, he will be a very hot commodity.
Anyways, Bobrovsky went 4-0 with a 1.00 goals-against average, a .970 save percentage, and two shutouts. During this particular week, he beat the New Jersey Devils twice and also had wins against the Vegas Golden Knights and Philadelphia Flyers, with the Devils and Flyers being big divisional wins.
With his unbelievably strong play this week, Bobrovsky’s stats look a heck of a lot better than they did earlier in the season. As of this writing, Bobrovsky is 16-10-1 with a 2.68 goals-against average, a .913 save percentage, and two shutouts.
These are the kinds of numbers that Bobrovsky usually posts with this franchise. In fact, the numbers he usually posts are far better than what he has right now so luckily for both him and the team, there is plenty of time to further improve Bobrovsky’s numbers.
With all of that said, for Bobrovsky, it should not be about the numbers. It should be about helping his team win hockey games not only now, but when it matters most come April.
As of this writing, the team is second in the Metropolitan Division with 45 points, which is just two points behind the division-leading Washington Capitals. While this is great, this team needs to remember that the team in front of them beat them in the playoffs last year and the team behind them, the Pittsburgh Penguins, beat them in the other two postseasons in 2014 and 2017.
One of the main reasons why they got knocked out was because of the play of Bobrovsky. Sure, he had great regular seasons each of these years, but he faltered at the worst possible time of the year.
May be this time around, he’ll be at the top of his game to take the Blue Jackets to the next level in what could end up being his final season with the franchise.
Photo: Sports Illustrated