Sergei Bobrovsky

Columbus has a serious Vezina candidate in Bobrovsky


Where would the Columbus Blue Jackets be without Sergei Bobrovsky?

Not in the playoff race, that’s for sure.

Bobrovsky was brilliant again last night in a 1-0 shootout loss to the Canucks in Vancouver. The 24-year-old stopped all 34 shots he faced in 65 minutes and was named the game’s first star for his efforts.

With his third shutout of the season, Bobrovsky’s save percentage rose all the way to .930, second among those with at least 10 starts to Ottawa’s injured netminder, Craig Anderson (.952).

Jackets defenseman Adrian Aucoin certainly appreciates what Bobrovsky has done for the team.

“It just makes less pressure for everybody else,” Aucoin said recently, per “You get that confidence where even if you give up a two-on-one, you have a feeling he’ll make that save. You’re never worried about him so you worry about the things that matter more to you. … It’s a luxury to have guys you can count on.”

At a cost of three draft picks, Bobrovsky was traded to Columbus in June from Philadelphia. Unfortunately for since-fired general manager Scott Howson, the move came at least a year too late. If Howson had successfully addressed his team’s goaltending the previous summer, instead of rolling the dice with Steve Mason, the nightmare season of 2011-12 would likely have gone quite differently.

At the very least, Howson can say he landed a Vezina candidate for the Jackets.

In a few months, he might be able to say he landed a Vezina winner.

Other candidates in the wide-open race for best goalie include Anderson, Henrik Lundqvist, Tuukka Rask, Carey Price, Jimmy Howard, Marc-Andre Fleury, Antti Niemi, Corey Crawford, Niklas Backstrom, Pekka Rinne, Kari Lehtonen, and making a late charge, Cory Schneider.

Again, it’s wide open.

But if the season ended today, Bobrovsky would be right in the conversation.

And if he can do the impossible and get the Jackets into the playoffs, well, how could anyone vote against him?

DiMaio named Blues’ director of player personnel

via St. Louis Blues
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The St. Louis Blues named Rob DiMaio their director of player personnel on Tuesday.

He’s been with the organization for some time. He joined as a pro scout in 2008 and was the pro scouting director starting in August 2012.

He was also a scout for the Dallas Stars before landing with the Blues (one would assume his biggest connection is GM Doug Armstrong, then).

In case his nose didn’t give it away, he also enjoyed a lengthy hockey career over 19 seasons.

No doubt about it, this is a pivotal season for the Blues after multiple campaigns in which strong regular seasons dissolved into playoff disappointments. Perhaps DiMaio can make a difference in a heightened role?

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock

ST. LOUIS (AP) After three straight first-round playoff exits, the St. Louis Blues have learned to temper expectations.

They have been consistently among the NHL’s best in the regular season and realize it is past time to build something for the long haul. The sting still lingers from the latest failure, against the Minnesota Wild last spring.

“We’re all disappointed, everybody can agree on that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s never easy to kind of think about your failures, but we grow every time it happens.”

Management isn’t ready to tear it all down yet.

“We play, in my opinion, one of the toughest if not the toughest division in the NHL, and we’ve finished first or second in the last four years,” forward Alexander Steen said. “So we have an extremely powerful team.”

Maybe a change in strategy will be enough: Coach Ken Hitchcock is back with a mandate for a more aggressive, even reckless, style of play from a roster that hasn’t changed appreciably.

“We’re coming hard from the back and we’re coming hard to see how close we can get to the attack,” Hitchcock said. “I think it’s where the game’s at; I think it’s where the game’s going to go.”

The 63-year-old Hitchcock is pushing forward, too, unwilling to dwell on the flameouts. Coach and players agree that would be “wasted energy.”

“My opinion is when you sit and think about the past, you do yourself no good,” Hitchcock said. “If you learn from the past, that’s when you do yourself a whole bunch of good.”

There were only two major roster casualties. Forward Troy Brouwer came from Washington in a trade for fan favorite T.J. Oshie. Defenseman Barret Jackman, the franchise career leader in games, wasn’t re-signed.

“If you were expecting 23 new faces to be on the roster this year, I don’t think that was realistic,” captain David Backes said. “We’re going to miss those guys in the room and on the ice, but there has been some changeover and I think it’s pretty significant.”

Things to watch for with the Blues:

GOALIE SHUFFLE: Just like last year, there’s no true No. 1 with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen sharing duties. The 25-year-old Allen missed a chance to seize the job last spring when he failed to raise his level in the playoffs.

TOP THREAT: Vladimir Tarasenko had a breakout season with 37 goals and was rewarded with an eight-year, $60 million contract. The 23-year-old winger is by far the Blues’ most dangerous scoring option and said he won’t let the money affect his play. “I never worry about it,” Tarasenko said. “If you play good, you play good.”

NEW FACES: Brouwer and center Kyle Brodziak add a physical element that was perhaps lacking a bit last season. Brouwer has three 20-plus goal seasons and Brodziak, acquired from Minnesota, fills a checking role. Veteran forward Scottie Upshall got a one-year, two-way deal after being coming to camp as a tryout. Rookie forward Robby Fabbri, a first-round pick last year, will get an early look. Another promising youngster, forward Ty Rattie, begins the year at Chicago of the AHL.

RECOVERY WARD: Forward Jori Lehteri bounced back quickly from ankle surgery and opens the season without restrictions. Another forward, Patrik Berglund, could miss half of the season following shoulder surgery.

TRACK RECORD: The Blues won the Central Division last season and Hitchcock, fourth on the career list with 708 regular-season wins, has consistently had the team near the top of the standings. “He is our coach, tough cookies if you don’t like it,” Backes said. “From my experience, he puts together one heck of a game plan.”