There has only been one thing consistent with the Columbus Blue Jackets through the first six games of the 2016-17 NHL season: starting goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.
Like several of his teammates, Bobrovsky started hockey season early by representing his home country — Team Russia — during the World Cup of Hockey tournament this September in Toronto. He was the reason Russia went on to face Canada in the semifinals. He had a 0.950 save percentage heading into that game, and saved 42 of 47 shots faced against the eventual winners of the tournament.
All that game play helped Bobrovsky find his groove as he headed straight into the middle of the Blue Jackets training camp and played well through the preseason. But so far during the regular season, Bobrovksy has been the reason why the Blue Jackets have kept games close without many lopsided losses, and have had a few solid wins in the mix.
Thursday night, Bobrovsky made 26 saves on 28 shots and kept the score 1-0 for the majority of the game, but it was not enough as his teammates took two costly penalties and could not generate the offensive support he needed to pick up two more points.
Brandon Saad was the first to accept the blame on behalf of the Blue Jackets forwards.
“Overall, we were too slow out there and did not [provide] enough support for the majority of the game,” Saad said. “Bob played well, but it’s too bad we didn’t help him out front.”
Including Thursday’s numbers, Bobrovsky has a 0.929 save percentage — good enough to be top 10 in the NHL in that category for players with a minimum of three games played. He has averaged just under 2.4 goals-against per game, too, as he was on the ice for the two San Jose power play goals.
Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella was also disappointed that the forwards did not support their hot goaltender.
“We [were not] consistent enough in our offensive forecheck and when we had the puck offensively,” Tortorella said. I thought for a lot of the minutes we were right there, but we were not sustaining enough offense. We just don’t have enough offensive guys going right now. They’re certainly trying, but we just haven’t sustained enough offense.”
The Blue Jackets are now 2-3-1 through the first six games of the season, and will play an Anaheim team coming off a 6-1 victory against the Nashville Predators in their last home game. Not only will they need to rely on Bobrovsky, but the forwards will need to find a way to score.
Center Brandon Dubinsky is one player who has noticeably been absent from the scoresheet, and after Thursday night, has a minus-8 rating — one of the worst plus-minus ratings in the league, as he has been on the ice for a majority of the team’s goals against.
There is only so long that the Blue Jackets can ride their hot goaltender in Bobrovsky before the lack of offense catches up to their win-loss record, especially when the team is averaging just over two goals per game.
They need to find the scoring touch quick, as they face the Ducks Friday night in the last game of their west coast road trip and look to finish out their tough swing with a 2-1-1 record. They will still need great goaltending, but they need solid performances from all other areas of their game, too.