Sergei Bobrovsky was probably the Columbus Blue Jackets’ best player during the 2016-17 regular season. His performance was good enough to not only lead the NHL in save percentage (.931), but also make him a finalist for both the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goalie (something he has already won once in his career) and the Hart Trophy as league MVP.
By any measure it was a fantastic season. He was one of the single biggest reasons the Blue Jackets not only bounced back from a horribly disappointing season in 2015-16 to become one of the best teams in the NHL.
His performance in the playoffs, however, was pretty much a complete 180 from what we saw in the regular season. That is a trend we have seen throughout his career in the NHL.
According to Aaron Portzline of the Columbus-Dispatch, Bobrovsky and the Blue Jackets both agreed that his struggles in the playoffs are mental and that the goalie was “receptive” to the idea of either working with a sports psychologist, or doing “other types of mental training” to help get over those struggles.
More from the Dispatch:
“Sergei is devoted to excellence,” said Paul Theofanous, Bobrovsky’s agent. “Every year he looks at himself after the season and says, ‘What can I do better? What can I do smarter? How do I make myself more effective?’ He’s an incredibly driven player and person. Incredibly devoted.”
But nobody will say what that’s going to entail, mostly because they don’t want Bobrovsky’s struggles to become a constant topic of discussion.
Bobrovsky’s performance in the Blue Jackets’ first-round series against the Penguins was a big reason that series ended in five games. He allowed at least three goals in every game, including two games where he surrendered at least five goals, and generally just looked completely off. With a better performance from Bobrovsky that series would have easily gone on longer, or perhaps even had an entirely different result as the Blue Jackets outplayed the Penguins for extended stretches in the series.
His postseason save percentage is only .887 for his career, a massive drop from the .920 mark he has in the regular season. Of the 30 goalies that have appeared in at least 15 playoff games since the start of the 2010-11 season only one of them (Ilya Bryzgalov, who is no longer in the NHL) has had a worse postseason save percentage during that stretch. That change in performance from the regular season to the playoffs is also one of the largest for any goalie in the league.
Bobrovsky certainly wouldn’t be the first goalie in the NHL that has seen a sports psychologist. Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury worked with one following the 2012-13 season following a disastrous postseason performance that saw him lose his starting job to Tomas Vokoun.
Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner and a finalist again this season, referenced that he has worked with one, including during their second-round series against the Penguins this year.