SergeiBobrovsky

 

 

Amato takes a look at Columbus' surprising run at a playoff spot

 

When the Columbus Blue Jackets traded Rick Nash last summer it signaled the end of an era. The skilled winger had spent his entire nine year career in Columbus, was the team captain, and the face of the franchise. His highlight reel goals and presence as one of the league's elite players gave Blue Jacket fans a sense of pride.

 

Despite the efforts of Nash, Columbus could not escape being one of the lowliest franchises of the past decade. The Blue Jackets have only exceeded 90 points in a campaign once and have had more than 40 wins just one time in a season. The team has made the playoffs just once in their entire existence, but still hasn’t even won a post-season game thanks to a sweep at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings.

That's why losing Nash looked to be so devastating. If Columbus was this bad with him, what lows could they sink to without him? They were able to obtain Artem Anisimov, Brandon Dubinsky, Tim Erixon, and a first-round pick. Not a terrible group by any means, but also no difference makers and no one ready to make an impact right away. Looking up and down at the 2013 roster, even the most loyal of Blue Jackets fans would have been questioning just where the points were going to come from.

Columbus, however, has avoided going into a tailspin and has given everyone around the greater Ohio area a reason for optimism. After getting off to a bit of a rocky start, the Blue Jackets now have points in 12 of 13 games. One of the main factors for the improved play has been a better team concept, but the true impact player is someone they acquired quietly during the off-season, goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.

Bobrovsky has been so good as of late that up until a rough outing on Saturday against Nashville; Yahoo ranked him the number one fantasy performer over the last 30 days. He came in just ahead of some guy named Sidney Crosby. In eight of his last 11 appearances, Bobrovsky has given up one goal or less and he is now up to a .927 save percentage and down to a 2.17 goals against average. His save percentage ranks third in the NHL behind only Ottawa's Craig Anderson and Boston’s Tuukka Rask. Bobrovsky is on pace for career highs in just about every statistical category.

Bobrovsky's strong play is even more surprising when you consider the amount of rubber he has faced so far this season. The Blue Jackets are giving up almost 28 shots per game when Bobrovsky is in net, and that puts him in the top 10 among starters. That's almost two shots more than he was getting per game last year with the Philadelphia Flyers, yet his numbers have skyrocketed. Not to mention Columbus also ranks 26th when it comes to shot blocking. 

Despite the amount of shots Bobrovsky is seeing, the Blue Jackets are actually doing a good job of putting the goaltender in a great position to succeed. Bobrovsky's shots are coming from an average of 34.96 feet, which ranks in the top 10 as least difficult when it comes to starters. So although he is being forced to make plenty of saves, the distance of the shots gives him a better chance to make the stop. That's great news for poolies who have saves as a category in their league.

 

 

Rank

Player

Team

GP

Shots

AvgDist

1

HOLTBY, BRADEN

WSH

22

653

36.70

2

NIEMI, ANTTI

S.J

26

745

36.66

3

BACKSTROM, NIKLAS

MIN

25

662

36.49

4

LINDBACK, ANDERS

T.B

21

557

36.37

5

PRICE, CAREY

MTL

25

651

36.21

6

FLEURY, MARC-ANDRE

PIT

22

550

35.56

7

RASK, TUUKKA

BOS

22

576

35.16

8

BOBROVSKY, SERGEI

CBJ

23

652

34.96

9

DUBNYK, DEVAN

EDM

25

758

34.64

10

VARLAMOV, SEMYON

COL

26

790

34.34

 

 

Now although Columbus is doing a good job of reducing the difficulty of stops overall, when Bobrovsky has been forced to deal with challenging shots he has been stellar. He has the third best save percentage in the NHL on shots faced from 1-15 feet and has given up the third fewest goals in that area among starters. A team like the Blue Jackets needs their goalie to bail them out every once and a while, and Bobrovsky is doing just that.

 

Rank

Name

Team

GP

Shots

Goals

Save%

1

DUBNYK,DEVAN

EDM

25

164

19

0.884

2

MILLER,RYAN

BUF

27

208

25

0.880

3

BOBROVSKY,SERGEI

CBJ

23

146

20

0.863

4

SMITH,MIKE

PHX

24

156

23

0.853

5

LUNDQVIST,HENRIK

NYR

26

181

27

0.851

6

NABOKOV,EVGENI

NYI

26

192

29

0.849

7

FLEURY,MARC-ANDRE

PIT

22

130

21

0.838

7

LEHTONEN,KARI

DAL

23

179

29

0.838

8

PRICE,CAREY

MTL

24

139

24

0.827

9

HOWARD,JAMES

DET

26

182

33

0.819

 

 

To further illustrate how important Bobrovsky is to the team just have a look at Steve Mason's stats. The goalie with so much promise that had a tremendous season when the Blue Jackets made their only playoff appearance, is now struggling mightily. Mason has now sunk to a record of 2-6-1 with a save percentage of barely over .900. Essentially, if Bobrovsky isn't between the pipes then the chances of Columbus winning goes down immensely. Barring unforeseen circumstances he should be getting the majority of the starts the rest of the way.

Besides Bobrovsky's play, the other major difference with the Blue Jackets is their improved play as a unit. Their penalty killing has risen to sixth in the NHL as opposed to being dead last in 2011-12 and Columbus also sits ninth in the NHL when it comes to face-off percentage. These are not only goalie friendly statistics, but they are crucial for a team that lacks firepower and players that can take over a game offensively. Strong efforts in those areas really pay off in close contests.

Columbus may or may not make the playoffs, but at least they have put themselves in the conversation for the time being. Bobrovsky has helped them start to change the culture of the organization, if only slightly. There is a different attitude or swagger with the team it seems in 2013. For instance, the Blue Jackets have taken nine of a possible 10 points from the Red Wings this year going 4-0-1. Detroit has normally feasted on Columbus over the years.

The Blue Jackets were never able to thrive with Rick Nash, but Bobrovsky and company are helping prove that they can at least survive without him.

 

Feel free to follow me on Twitter at @amato_mike

 

Also from Amato:

The New and Improved Sam Gagner

What's up with Drew Doughty? 

 

 

 


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