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Torts on Bobrovsky’s struggles: ‘Bob has not been Bob’

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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 phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Lamoureux twins start foundation to help disadvantaged kids

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BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson and Monique Lamoureux-Morando, stars of the United States’ gold medal-winning hockey team in South Korea, are hard at work training to make another Olympic team in 2022. But they’re also carving out time to do good off the ice, launching a foundation Monday that seeks to help underserved children and communities.

The Monique and Jocelyne Lamoureux Foundation will work with groups that support disadvantaged children through education and extracurricular activities, primarily in their home state of North Dakota. It’s an extension of the sisters’ hockey camps for girls and their work with cable and internet provider Comcast, where the twins promote such things as gender equity and internet access for low-income families.

”Sometimes there’s a lack of awareness around the need that the kids need, and so we’re hoping that we’re able to inspire more people to give back,” Lamoureux-Davidson said.

”We want to be part of bringing a solution around issues,” Lamoureux-Morando said.

The 30-year-old Grand Forks natives and University of North Dakota standouts helped the U.S. win the gold medal in South Korea in 2018. Lamoureux-Morando scored the game-tying goal late in the third period of the gold-medal game against Canada, and her sister scored the game-winner in the shootout.

The twins are the first gold medalists from North Dakota, and they are training six days a week on the ice to try to earn a spot on a fourth Olympic team in Beijing in 2022. Each gave birth to a baby boy less than a year after the Olympics, and the women’s children will accompany them at a USA Hockey camp next month in Lake Placid, New York.

”It’s a total game-changer being a parent,” Lamoureux-Morando said.

The twins said their mother, Linda, was a champion of the underdog, and taught them a lesson they have come to realize goes beyond the rink. And it has become the heart of their foundation aimed at helping the disadvantaged.

”She would always just cheer for the one that’s behind,” Lamoureux-Davidson said of her mother. ”In hindsight, it was meant for sport, but it’s really has really turned into something so much more for us.”

AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker in Nashville, Tennessee, contributed to this report.

Can James Neal bounce back after ugly season in Calgary?

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James Neal figures he’s re-invigorated.

One can assume the salivating prospect of playing alongside Connor McDavid would have that sort of effect. For Neal, it could also mean putting behind him a horrible season where he failed to hit double-digit goals for the first time in his career and finished with just 19 points in 63 games.

The 2018-19 season made Neal the biggest bust of last year’s free-agent crop. Despite playing on the team that was tops in the Western Conference at the end of the regular season, the only thing Neal’s game topped was the scrap heap. It got so bad that when the Flames needed a win in Game 5 of Round 1 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Neal was parked in the press box as the Flames crashed out of the postseason.

But there’s hope in Edmonton after Ken Holland and the Oilers acquired Neal for Milan Lucic. Hope, because Holland has already done what those previous to him couldn’t: get Lucic out of town. And hope, because as bad as Neal’s season was last year, there’s optimism that he could turn it around this year.

That faith rests in his shooting percentage. Never before had Neal shot below 10 percent in all situations in his career over a full season and never below nine percent in five-on-five situations. Last year, his shooting success was just five percent in all situations and 4.63 percent in five-on-five.

As Willis points out, if that shooting percentage just returns back to the mean, Neal could double his goal total without much extra effort.

Neal’s shot contributions are very good. Using CJ Turtoro’s player comparison tool, you can see just how stark the contrast is between himself and Lucic, who replaces Neal in Calgary.

Take those shot contributions and put them on a line with McDavid and profit?

So there’s it’s a good bet that Neal can contribute. How much so remains to be seen.

He’s still a positive possession player, even during his down year last year (50.58%). Over the past three seasons, he’s been outscored five-on-five, something that hadn’t happened previously since 2008-09. His expected goals were the third-lowest of his career. And he shot just 141 times, the lowest total outside of the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season.

Either last season was a sign of things to come or an outlier for a player fully capable of potting 20 goals. At 31, he isn’t a dinosaur by any means.

Shedding Lucic’s no-movement, $6 million a season contract was a win already. And if Neal is on McDavid’s wing, it will be interesting to see how big of a rebound season he can have.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

PHT Morning Skate: Maroon’s future uncertain; Gillis wants NHL return

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Patrick Maroon isn’t sure if he’ll be back in St. Louis this season. (NHL.com)

• NHL commentators with rave reviews for Edmonton Oilers GM Ken Holland on Milan Lucic trade. (Edmonton Journal)

• After fives years away traveling the world and expanding his hockey mind, Mike Gillis is ready to return to the NHL — just not as a general manager. (Sportsnet)

John Tavares knows Mitch Marner will play for the Maple Leafs this season. (NHL.com)

• Jets could find great value in acquiring Stars’ Honka. (Winnipeg Sun)

• The Vancouver Canucks have improved more than any team in the Pacific. (The Canuck Way)

James Neal is feeling re-invigorated after move to Edmonton. (Global News)

• Colorado Avalanche star forward Mikko Rantanen isn’t going to the KHL. (Mile High Hockey)

• Flyers need impact from Hayes, Vigneault. (NHL.com)

• After years of stunted talks, Calgary may be ready to build a new hockey arena. (Globe and Mail)

• What it may take for a player to reach 50 goals or 100 points this season with the New Jersey Devils. (All About the Jersey)

• Predicting how long the Penguins’ Stanley Cup window will stay open. (Pensburgh)

• The Predators should make a push for Nikita Gusev. (Predlines)

• Why Peter DeBoer is confident Sharks can fill Joe Pavelski‘s scoring void. (NBC Sports Bay Area)

• Coyotes need more offense from well-paid blue line. (The Athletic)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Blues, Sundqvist avoid arbitration with four-year, $11 million contract

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The St. Louis Blues locked up another piece of their Stanley Cup winning team on Sunday when they re-signed restricted free agent forward Oskar Sundqvist to a four-year contract.

Sundqvist, 25, had filed for salary arbitration and a hearing scheduled for this week.

That will no longer be necessary thanks to this new deal.

According to the Blues the contract will pay Sundqvist a total of $11 million, averaging out to a salary cap hit of $2.75 million per season.

The Blues acquired Sundqvist, as well as a first-round draft pick that was used to select forward Klim Kostin, prior to the 2017-18 season in the trade that sent Ryan Reaves and a second-round pick to the Pittsburgh Penguins. After managing just a single goal and four assists in in 42 games in his debut season with the Blues, Sundqvist had a breakout season in 2018-19 with 14 goals and 17 assists in 74 regular season games.

He also played a big depth role in the playoffs by adding four goals and five assists in 25 playoff games.

With Sundqvist back in the mix the Blues now have two more restricted free agents to sign in forward Ivan Barbashev and defender Joel Edmundson. Edmundson has an arbitration hearing scheduled for August 4. The Blues have already successfully avoided arbitration hearings with starting goalie Jordan Binnington, forward Zach Sanford, and now Sundqvist, so it seems reasonable to assume they will be able to settle with Edmundson as well.

The Blues still have around $5 million in salary cap space to work with this summer.

More Blues content

• Binnington signs two-year, $8.8 million deal
Fabbri gets one-year deal from Blues
• PHT Stanley Cup Tracker: Maroon takes Cup back to St. Louis for some toasted ravioli

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.