Sometimes, when locker room drama spills out into the mainstream, the star in question will silence murmurs with great play. Other times, things will fall apart altogether.
In the case of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Sergei Bobrovsky, the Blue Jackets have been prospering ever since Bob dealt with that unofficial suspension, but it really hasn’t had much to do with Bobrovsky.
[Blue Jackets sit Bobrovsky; Bob addresses the incident, his future]
Instead, the Blue Jackets have largely feasted on the improving play of Joonas Korpisalo, and dynamite work from the top line (maybe “The Bread Line?”) of Artemi Panarin, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and Cam Atkinson.
Consider the last week-plus for Korpisalo, with some overlap from the “incident,” which was Bob not returning to the Blue Jackets’ bench after being pulled last week against Tampa:
Jan. 4: 14 saves in relief appearance against Carolina, no goals allowed
Jan. 8: The night of the “incident,” Korpisalo stops all eight shots against Tampa Bay.
Jan. 10: Makes 35 saves as Columbus beats Nashville in OT, with Bob fever at a high pitch.
Jan. 12: Korpisalo only allows one goal as Columbus beats Washington 2-1 in OT
Jan. 13: Bob’s lone appearance since the kerfuffle. Columbus wins, but the score was 7-5, so it’s tough to give Bobrovsky overwhelming credit.
Jan. 15: Korpisalo and the Blue Jackets cruise to a 4-1 win against the Devils.
This strong play hasn’t gone unnoticed by John Tortorella, as he discussed when asked about what he’s seen in Korpisalo:
“It’s what I don’t see in him,” Tortorella said. “Just no extra movement. He just looks confident …”
On one level, it’s a little awkward that the Blue Jackets are on a hot streak, mostly with Bobrovsky on the bench. It’s sort of a twisted take on “living well is the best revenge.”
But the delightful thing is just how fun certain elements are turning out to be.
Take, for instance, a post-win ritual. For a while, Nick Foligno and Korpisalo would exchange ill-advised, but very “hockey” headbutts when the backup would get a W:
The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline has been chronicling this development (sub required), including this amusing quote from Foligno earlier in 2018-19.
“I don’t really know where that came from,” Foligno said. “But I kinda like it. It’s good to rough Korpi up a little bit.”
Yet, with Korpisalo winning three of the four games on the Blue Jackets’ current four-game winning streak, even reckless hockey players took a step back on thought of the conkies.
In case you’re not fluent in Hockeylish, “conkies” are apparently concussions, and the two finally put a stop to it after Tuesday’s win against New Jersey. Their new celebration might need some more time in the oven, which is something even Korpisalo admitted.
Yeah, that wasn’t too great, unless Korpisalo and Foligno were actually doing a high-level impression of that “Step Brothers” scene where Will Ferrell and Adam Scott clearly don’t know how to hug each other.
That jovial atmosphere extends to the little things in life, like the team being overjoyed by the prospect of no practice, like conky-fearing Allen Iversons:
It’s remarkable that Korpisalo’s hot streak has merely pushed him to a .902 save percentage on the season, and Bobrovsky hasn’t been nailing his contract year either, with just a .903 save percentage in 2018-19.
Such a kerfuffle underscores an interesting thought: this team is jockeying with the Capitals for the Metropolitan Division crown even with subpar, and sometimes distracting goaltending.
A blazing-hot top line is a big reason why.
While a heating up Korpisalo makes a Bobrovsky trade seem only more inevitable, Panarin’s been proving his value all season long. He’s generated a four-game point and goal streak, generating five goals and two assists for seven points during that span. Panarin’s up to 52 points in 44 games, Dubois has 42 points in 46 contests, and Atkinson has 27 goals (among 48 points), closing in on his career-high of 35.
Imagine what that line (not to mention stellar defensemen Seth Jones and Zach Werenski) could accomplish if that goaltending rises to the occasion?
It’s pretty strange to see the Blue Jackets prosper so much without Bobrovsky in net, but the organization obviously must hope that this is a sign of good things to come.
If not, at least it’s been a fun, unexpected ride for the last week or so.
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.