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 ESPN.com 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.