Sergei Bobrovsky is the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, and his recent return is giving the Columbus Blue Jackets a lift.
It would seem a wise decision to start Bobrovsky again Saturday night when the Blue Jackets make their first visit to Winnipeg seeking a seventh win in eight meetings against the Jets.
Bobrovsky was superb last season, going 21-11-6 with a 2.00 goals-against average and four shutouts while Columbus missed the playoffs on a tiebreaker. He’s looked every bit like one of the best goaltenders in the league after missing 12 games with a groin injury.
He made 40 saves before turning aside two shootout attempts in Monday’s 4-3 road win over the New York Rangers. Bobrovsky followed it up Friday with one of his best performances of the season, stopping 36 shots in a 3-0 home win over Carolina.
"Our goalie energized the building in the third period with some of his saves," coach Todd Richards said. "That is a little reminiscent of last season."
With the Blue Jackets (20-20-4) winning three of four, they may decide to continue starting their hot netminder. Bobrovsky has a 1.31 GAA while winning four straight starts, dating back to before his injury. However, he’s 0-2-1 with a 4.72 GAA in his last four meetings with the Jets (19-22-5), but backup Curtis McElhinney has lost three of four starts overall with a 4.04 GAA.
Columbus fell 3-2 at home to Winnipeg on Dec. 16, ending its six-game winning streak in the series.
R.J. Umberger had a goal in that meeting, giving him four over the past six. The left wing, though, has scored just once in eight games, while Brandon Dubinsky has four points in three. The center has a goal in each of the past two games, matching his production from the previous 19.
The Jets have matched a season high with four straight losses, getting outshot 33-14 in a 4-2 home loss to Tampa Bay on Tuesday. It was their fewest shots since registering 12 in a loss at Washington as the Atlanta Thrashers on March 14, 2008.
"It was embarrassing," said Ondrej Pavelec, who is 0-4 with a 4.40 GAA in five games. "The way we played, we can’t expect to be a success, that’s for sure."
Despite the performance, coach Claude Noel insists improvement is coming.
"I still believe our team is a playoff team," he said. "We have to play better. It’ll get done. We hope that it’ll get done when we play Columbus."
In the hopes of providing a spark, Noel is expected to move Dustin Byfuglien from defense to forward. Tied with Bryan Little with a team-high 34 points, Byfuglien has made that change at other times in his career, including last season.
The veteran has been a bright spot over the last four games, scoring three goals and assisting on two others. He’s also been very effective at MTS Centre, with two goals and four assists in five games. Of his 10 goals on the season, seven have been scored there.
Pavelec has lost all four of his career meetings with the Blue Jackets despite a 2.29 GAA, while backup Al Montoya made 22 saves against them Dec. 16. That was part of a seven-game stretch during which he went 6-0-0 with a 1.27 GAA.
He’s surrendered 10 goals on 68 shots while losing two starts since.