Backstopping a mindset
Now that the final preseason game before the October 4th home opener versus the Calgary Flames is over, all eyes turn in anticipation of a new season in the newly created Metropolitan Division of the Eastern Conference. Will the youngsters step up? Will the Blue Jackets score more goals as they march towards the post-season? Or, more importantly, will Sergei Bobrovsky be able to come close to repeating his form in goal from one season ago?
The conventional wisdom says that Blue Jackets Vezina-winning net-minder Sergei Bobrovsky will most assuredly regress this season. The less-informed also say that he is a “flash-in-the-pan”, destined to be serviceable, but not elite. The truth lies somewhere in between, leaning toward the latter.
His stats from the lockout-shortened 2013 season speak volumes, as he practically stood on his head most nights. Traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets by the Philadelphia Flyers in June, 2012, he started his season in the KHL with the commencement of the lockout. When it was over, he donned the Union Blue and split time in goal with former Blue Jacket Steve Mason.
After supplanting Mason as the number one goaltender, Bobrovsky (as well as the team) started a mad dash for the playoffs, finishing the season on a 19-5-5 run. In 38 games for Columbus, Bobrovsky went 21-11-6, with four shutouts and posting a GAA of 2.00 and a SV% of .932, leading to him winning the Vezina Trophy. His NHL career stats are thus: GAA of 2.49, SV% of .917 in 121 games played.
He trains the way that he plays the game, and that is focused. Forward Nick Foligno knows just how competitive that Bobrovsky can be. “He’s awesome. That’s what makes him so good. He treats every shot like it’s a game shot. He wants to be on his angle. He’ll even come up to you and say ‘was I off my angle there?’ I’ll say ‘yeah, a little bit’ or “I saw this hole here’… “
“I think the biggest thing with Bob is that he’s a student of the game. He’s not the guy that thinks that just because he won a Vezina, that’s he has achieved it all. I think that he’s a guy that just wants to keep getting better. He feels like he can keep getting better. I think that’s a great sign.”
Although he stood on his head last season, don’t expect his teammates to make him do that every night this year. “We obviously expect that he’s going to be good”, said defenseman Jack Johnson. “There’s no question about that. Every successful team has a great goaltender.”
“At times, I’m sure he’s going to have to make a spectacular save. He does his ‘thing’ and we let him go. It’s everyone’s responsibility to focus on their own game. We have to help him out. We can’t rely on him to do what he did last year. I think that’s unrealistic for 82 (or more) games in a season. We have to score more goals for him.”
Columbus head coach Todd Richards has liked what he’s seen of his number one net-minder during the preseason. “Bob looked strong, he looked square and he looked calm and controlled.
Bobrovsky knows that the team will do what it has to do in front of him. He has a mindset that is sharp and focused on being the absolute best goalie that he can be. Whether that’s making routine stops or blanking a fusillade of shots from an attacking team, he knows he is the last body between the puck and the net. But, does he feel pressure to repeat his “out of this world” performance from last season?
“I don’t really focus on that”, Bobrovsky said. “I feel that I need to focus on the team goals, to make the playoffs and to help the team as much as I can. That’s my goal for this season.” What is the mindset of the team and are they focused on what is expected of them this season? “I think so, yes”, he said. “Everybody is focused and working hard. They are getting better and we have a good atmosphere in the locker room.”
Columbus has a week until the home opener for the 2013-2014 season, now that the preseason games have been concluded. I asked him if the eight day layoff between games would adversely affect him. “We’ve got eight days (between games)”, said Bobrovsky. “It’s the schedule and I can’t control that. I focus (on his game) and I will try to use that time wisely.”
Columbus needs Bobrovsky to be a bit more than serviceable, yet able to undertake the 82 game regular season grind, without having to stand on his head every game. With goal-scoring players in contract years, and the addition of proven goal scorer Nathan Horton, he shouldn’t have to.
• Forward Artem Anisimov did not play in the third period of the game versus the Carolina Hurricanes. Head coach Todd Richards said after the game that he has lower body soreness. Taking him out of the game was a precautionary measure and that he was looked at by team doctors. He doesn’t expect it to be anything other than a “maintenance” day.• The final cuts are coming to get the roster down to the league-mandated 23 players. Todd Richards said, “We’re going to have some tough decisions, specifically on the back end (defense). We have a number of guys that came into camp and did a really good job. To me, it’s a credit to the organization. Now, we have a real competition within our team, battling for ice time and battling for NHL spots. That’s exactly what you want to have. It gives you assets that you can use.”• The waiting game is on for the Blue Jackets 1st round (2nd overall) pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. Ryan Murray is just as calm talking about the possibility of being sent down as he is on the ice. “I’ve done everything I can”, said Murray. “There’s nothing else you can do to change their minds, so I just did my best to work hard. I tried to make a good impression and now, the decision is up to them.”• After being called up from the Springfield Falcons just a couple of days ago, Jonathan Marchessault, Sean Collins and Dalton Smith have been re-assigned back to the Falcons.