In what might be goalie Sergei Bobrovsky's last season in Columbus, the team is again faced with questions on just how big a role he plays in the team's successes ... and failures
What’s going to make this year any different?
Welcome to 2019, Jackets fans, although that’s not the “this year” I’m referencing.
“This season” would be a better phrasing, and the “different” we’d be looking for is a playoff performance by goalie Sergei Bobrovsky that matches his regular season dominance of the past few seasons.
The situation is not new. “Playoff Bob” is a real, if unfortunate, thing. Like anything, there are also explanations — but are they reasons or excuses? I don’t envy the Jackets’ front office having to figure it out.
Two seasons back, in 2016-17, Bobrovsky was a Vezina Trophy winning goalie, carrying a .932 save percentage and a 2.06 goals against average into the playoffs, where, you’ll recall, the Jackets matched up with their hated rivals from Pittsburgh, to whom the team had dropped a first round matchup by a 4-2 tally in its previous playoff appearance three seasons prior. This was a new Jackets, with Stanley Cup-winning Head Coach John Tortorella behind the bench and a retooled, more gifted roster than the club had sported previously.
And the team lost the seven game series 4-1, with Bob’s save percentage dropping to .882 and his goals-against average rising to nearly 4. Too many of those goals were of the soft variety, too. This seemed to establish that something was up with the netminder come playoff time. However, there was the matter of how much time the Jackets spent in the penalty box, and the number of power-play goals the Penguins scored.
Last season, the Jackets duplicated their ’16-17 playoff push, earning a first-round matchup with the Washington Capitals. While Bobrovsky didn’t go back-to-back as Vezina winner, his stats were nearly the same as the previous season, with a .921 save percentage and a 2.42 GAA. Another first-round exit followed, with Bob’s numbers again sub-standard compared to his regular season success. But again, penalties were a problem, and as Washington spring boarded to its first-ever Cup win, opposing goaltenders earned similarly mediocre stat lines in the process.
The offseason brought rumblings of animosity held by the goalie against the front office for suggesting he might want to see a sports psychologist to help with his post-season yips. He was not signed to an extension (this is the final year of his current contract), and at his pre-training camp media scrum, Bob offered lines such as, “I told the situation to the management of the Blue Jackets. They know my plans for the season and my plans for the future, so they know everything.” And, “I’m a Blue Jacket for now.” In response to a question as to whether this is his last season in Columbus, he answered, “We’ll see.”
A slow start (also a regular Bob thing) has given way to a stretch of “Regular Season Bob.” Over the past two weeks, he has four wins, a .931 save percentage and a 2.21 GAA. So Jackets fans and, more importantly, management, are again faced with competing questions: How important is Bob to the team’s regular season success? And can Bob be counted on to maintain his level of play come playoff time?
In other words: What’s going to make this year any different?