No player makes a bigger impact on a hockey game than a goalie, yet they’re very tough to forecast for a host of reasons.
For one thing, they’re basically the opposite of NFL QBs. While quarterbacks begin every (non-Wildcat?) play with the ball in their hands, wielding incredible decision-making power, goalies must let pucks come to them. Those pucks are usually going very quickly, changing directions rapidly, and generally placed in ways that make their lives more difficult. No wonder netminders are so eager to handle the puck … even, seemingly, to their detriment.
So, it’s unfair to say that a contract year is putting the same vise-like pressure on Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky that Bob felt during postseason struggles.
It is fair, however, to claim that there’s been some impact, as Bob himself admitted as much. Heading into this season, he simply explained: he’s only human.
That human has struggled to stop pucks by virtually every measure early in 2018-19.
Bobrovsky sports an ugly 3.87 GAA and hideous .872 save percentage through six games, making his 2-4-0 record almost look lucky. For some perspective, consider that – for all the upheaval modern NHL goalies experience – Bob has only been under a .900 save percentage once in his career: a .899 mark over 29 games in 2011-12, his last season with the Flyers. Bobrovsky’s overall career save percentage underlines his most-of-the-time brilliance: a fantastic .919 mark, which goes up to .922 if you only look at his seven years with Columbus.
Bob’s numbers don’t really get healthier when you dig deeper into stats like goals saved above average, either:
While Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella doesn’t brutally throw Bobrovsky under the bus, he acknowledges to the Columbus Dispatch’s Brian Hedger that something’s been off so far this season.
“Bob has not been Bob,” Tortorella said. “It’s a unique position, that goaltender position, but the past two games the opposing goaltender has been better than our goaltender. That doesn’t happen often with Bob, but it has been there this year.”
Breaking down his struggles a bit more
When your numbers are as bad as Bobrovsky’s so far, it might seem like pouring salt in open wounds to peek any deeper. So, Bob, it’s OK if you click on another story.
Bob gone now? Fair enough, let’s consider that: Bobrovsky’s even-strength save percentage is .882 so far, ranking him ninth-worst in the NHL. That’s not ideal, yet it’s in the same neighborhood as Jake Allen and Martin Jones, struggling-but-certified starters.
The penalty kill is where Bob is really hurting, and might be the area where Torts and company should dig deepest for answers. So far, Bob’s save percentage on the PK is just .778, as he’s allowed six power-play goals on 27 shots. Last season, Bobrovsky wasn’t as effective at that phase of the game as Joonas Korpisalo, yet his .831 save percentage in PK situations would be a welcome improvement nonetheless.
Team in front of him
Checking Natural Stat Trick’s handy team stats, the Blue Jackets are in the top third of NHL teams in Corsi For percentage, and they’re a top-five team when it comes to limiting scoring chances against. The worry really isn’t quality chances allowed over quantity, either, as the Blue Jackets rank as a top-five team when it comes to limiting high-danger scoring chances, too.
While those numbers make Bobrovsky’s struggles more confounding and frustrating, it’s promising that Columbus might be able to put Bob in positive situations where he can work things out.
Maybe most promising, though, is that Seth Jones is back. Tonight’s game against the Blues marks the Norris-level defenseman’s mere second game of 2018-19, so it won’t hurt to play in front of another elite talent.
Granted, it’s not yet clear if Bob will actually start tonight. There’s an argument for sitting him for a game or two to try to sort things out and regain his bearings.
Either way, six games is an incredibly small sample size, and even the best of goalies suffer through similar slumps. Bob has been there himself, although one of the things that makes him stand out is how rare these cold streaks occur.
The odds are high that Bob will be Bob again soon enough.
MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.