Sergei Bobrovsky

Jackets coach sings goalie Bobrovsky’s praises


If there’s one team that appreciates the importance of goaltending, it’s the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Jackets came into last season with one of the highest payrolls in the NHL, but they didn’t have the right goalie.

They finished dead last.

This season — after shedding millions in salary and trading away captain Rick Nash — they’re getting a Vezina Trophy-caliber performance from Sergei Bobrovsky.

And wouldn’t you know it, they’re fighting for a playoff spot.

“The big thing [Bobrovsky’s] done for our team is he’s just given our whole team confidence,” head coach Todd Richards told on Tuesday. “That’s what that one position can do to a team. It’s no different than in baseball when you have your ace of the pitching staff taking the mound; you go in with a different feeling that day. It gives everyone else confidence. That’s what Bobby has really done. He’s played great and he deserves all things people are talking about in terms of maybe awards at the end of the year. He’s earned that. But the big thing for our team even more than the big save here and there is the confidence that it gives everyone else to go out and play.”

Bobrovsky is 17-10-6 with a .931 save percentage.

Among regular starters, only Ottawa’s Craig Anderson (.949) has a higher save percentage than Bobrovksy. (And Anderson only has 19 starts to Bobrovsky’s 32.)

The Jackets aren’t the only team that’s seen its goaltending improve dramatically this season, with a resultant jump in the standings.

Toronto and Chicago have seen it, too. The Maple Leafs are on the verge of making the playoffs for the first time since 2004; the Blackhawks have barely lost all year.

Meanwhile, teams like Calgary, Florida, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Tampa Bay and Carolina can only wonder where they’d be had their goalies been better or healthier.

This is also why this summer could be an interesting one, with trade speculation surrounding the likes of Roberto Luongo, Ryan Miller and Jonathan Bernier.

Oilers go captain-less, name four alternates instead

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Edmonton’s made a fairly significant shift in its leadership group.

The big news is the Oilers won’t have a captain this season, as Andrew Ference will relinquish the “C” he’s worn for the last two years.

Ference will, however, remain part of the group and wear an “A” as part of a four-man alternate captain collective, one that also includes Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall.

The news of Ference being removed as captain doesn’t come as a huge surprise. The veteran d-man is a well-respected leader, but isn’t expected to be in the lineup every night this season.

The decision to go without a captain, though, is something of a surprise, especially given what new head coach Todd McLellan endured during his final season in San Jose.

The Sharks’ captaincy issue — stripping Joe Thornton, then going with four rotating alternates — was an ongoing problem, something that players, coaches and GM Doug Wilson had to repeatedly address until it blew up in spectacular fashion.

That said, the circumstances in Edmonton are quite different.

It’s believed the club’s intentionally keeping the captaincy vacant, on the assumption that Connor McDavid will evolve into a superstar and, subsequently, the club’s unquestioned leader.

Finally, McLellan noted that with Eberle currently sidelined, a fifth Oiler would be added to the leadership group — veteran forward Matt Hendricks, who will serve as a temporary alternate.

Brandon Sutter didn’t have the greatest preseason

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When Brandon Sutter was acquired by the Vancouver Canucks, GM Jim Benning called the 26-year-old a “foundation piece for our group going forward.”

Sutter was quickly signed to a five-year extension worth almost $22 million, more evidence of how highly management thought of the player.

Fast forward to yesterday, when Benning was asked the following question:

“What does it say that you made the trade for Sutter, you called him a ‘foundation’ player, and it took him until the final night of the preseason to find a spot (with the Sedins) on the wing, which isn’t his natural position?”

Here was Benning’s response:

“Well, [head coach Willie Desjardins] wants to try that out, he thinks that’s going to be a good fit. At various times, the Sedins played with wingers with speed, with [Ryan Kesler], who could get in on the forecheck and had a good shot. Sutter brings some of those qualities, too.”

While all that may be true, Sutter was not signed to play the wing; he was brought in to play center, specifically on the second line. He finished the preseason with zero points in five games. And as mentioned, he’ll start the season on the wing, not his natural position.

Meanwhile, youngsters Bo Horvat, 20, and Jared McCann, 19, had outstanding camps and are expected to start the regular season (tonight in Calgary) centering the second and third lines, respectively.

Though Sutter did finish the preseason with 12 shots on goal, up there with the most on the Canucks, it’s fair to say he did not look like a “foundation” player.

“I haven’t seen him play his best,” Desjardins said last week. “I see a guy who’s big and a good skater and who understands the game real well, but just hasn’t got that involved.”

Now, we are only talking about the preseason here. New players often take time to get comfortable. Perhaps playing with the Sedins can provide Sutter with some confidence.

“I know he’ll be there and I totally believe that,” said Desjardins.

But it hasn’t been the best start, and if it wasn’t for the encouraging play of the youngsters, it would be a far bigger story in Vancouver.

Related: Canucks roll the dice on rookies, waive Vey and Corrado