Blue Jackets are red-hot, mostly with Bob on the bench

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

Bobrovsky wants to move on from incident, but questions linger

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Considering how tight-lipped NHL players can be even about the most mundane subjects, Sergei Bobrovsky deserves credit for being patient with the media in addressing the incident that essentially prompted the Columbus Blue Jackets to unofficially suspend him for Thursday’s eventual win against the Predators.

Of course, this is the NHL and Jim Lites isn’t involved, so Bobrovsky’s comments aren’t the most candid, prompting us to read way, way too much into things.

As it turns out, there are definitely some interesting questions and non/semi-answers that linger in the air, even as Bobrovsky wants to “move on.”

(Warning: do not take a shot for every time that phrase is uttered. This isn’t “Mad Men,” you can’t drink like that at lunch time.)

To review and to overthink things:

  • Most directly, Bobrovsky explained that he let his emotions get to him regarding Tuesday’s 4-0 loss to the Lightning.

Bob seemed to say that he “cleaned”/cleared the air, and began the festival of move-ons.

(By the way, Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen joined that party, as he told The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun: “Matter resolved, we are moving on.”)

Bobrovsky then said it would stay in the room, which follows the pattern of the Blue Jackets handling the situation in the vaguest way possible.

  • One big eyebrow-raiser came when Bobrovsky asked (around the 1:15 mark) if he wanted to stay in Columbus for the rest of the year.

“Well, I am here.” Bobrovsky said. “And I will play here. I will do my best as I’ve done for this team, this organization, for these fans, for this city. I’ve been working hard, and I will continue to do that.”

Interesting semi-answer, right?

This does little to curb speculation that Bobrovsky wants out of Columbus, and might not be happy. Elliotte Friedman speculated as much during an appearance on Sportsnet’s Starting Lineup on Friday, reporting that Bobrovsky has been “unhappy all year.”

  • When asked if he thought the suspension was right, Bob merely said “It doesn’t matter” and essentially what happened, happened. (And, yes, that he wants to move on.)

It’s a professional response, yet he’s not exactly absolving the organization of criticism there. Interesting.

  • One of the funnier moments came when Bobrovsky looked perplexed around the 2:22 mark. He was asked if anything came back to a different loss to Tampa Bay, which was an 8-2 defeat way back on Oct. 18. Fun comic relief, if you’re a Blue Jackets fan wiping sweat from your brow right now.
  • It remains unclear if there’s a rift with coach John Tortorella.

When asked if his relationship is the same with Tortorella as it had been in past seasons, Bob said “Torts is Torts. He’s an honest guy … and will do what he believes his best for the team.”

That’s nice, but what about what he’s doing for the starting goalie?

***

This incident is prominent not just because of the air of mystery surrounding why Bob was suspended, and not even because Torts can be one of the most entertaining coaches in the NHL when it comes to comical meltdowns and golden one-liners.

It’s fascinating because of just how unusual this situation is.

Bobrovsky is a two-time Vezina winner, yet Bob and the Blue Jackets haven’t won a single playoff series. Bobrovsky and star winger Artemi Panarin are on expiring contracts, so the team is in an extremely tough spot, especially if free vodka for life, free dental work, and an extension aren’t enough to keep Panarin around.

Losing Bobrovsky for nothing isn’t ideal, especially if the Pittsburgh Penguins or Washington Capitals once again frustrate the Blue Jackets in the playoffs. Then again, what happens if Columbus trades away Bob? While he hasn’t been his world-stopping self in 2018-19, Joonas Korpisalo hasn’t exactly looked like the goalie of the future they were hoping for.

The Blue Jackets are dealing with an extreme set of challenging circumstances here, and while Bobrovsky technically says more or less the right things, it’s tough to argue that he’s actually happy right now.

Such happiness absolutely matters because Bobrovsky could shoot down potential trades with his no-movement clause. Yeah.

Whether the Blue Jackets like it or not, this matter is far from resolved.

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.

Blue Jackets to sit Sergei Bobrovsky after unspecified ‘incident’

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As the Columbus Blue Jackets look to turn things around after dropping two of their last three games, they will be without goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky Thursday night when they host the Nashville Predators.

The team announced just before their morning skate that Bobrovsky was basically being suspended for something that the club wouldn’t go into detail about.

From Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen:

“There are certain expectations and values that we have established for our players that define our culture. An incident occurred in which Sergei failed to meet those expectations and values, so we made the decision that he would not be with the team for tonight’s game. This is an internal matter and we will have no further comment at this time.”

Head coach John Tortorella didn’t elaborate Thursday morning, simply saying “The release will speak for itself,” and did not indicate if Bobrovsky would be back in net Saturday night against Washington. He is expected to be on the ice for Friday’s practice if a morning meeting with Kekalainen goes well, reports Aaron Portzline of The Athletic.

This was already going to be a dicey year for Bobrovsky and the Blue Jackets since the goaltender can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and he hasn’t given any indication he’s willing to re-sign. And with the team in the mix of the Metropolitan Division playoff picture, it wasn’t as easy as trading him away over letting him walk for free.

But will whatever this situation is precipitate a move? Bobrovsky has a full no-movement clause, per Cap Friendly, so he can control his destination if a trade is in the offing before the Feb. 25 deadline. But unless Kekalainen is getting a goaltender that he feels can help his team on the same level, this situation will likely have to be sorted out as the Blue Jackets eye a deep playoff run.

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Blue Jackets’ Bobrovsky talks contract distraction, says he’s ‘human’

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Sergei Bobrovsky is human, go figure.

There are nights where his play might suggest otherwise, but the man made the declaration himself on Saturday, telling reporters in Columbus about his terrestrial nature when asked about the distraction he is facing given his contract status with the Blue Jackets.

“Yeah, well, we’ll see. I’m a human too,” Bobrovsky said when asked about separating the game’s business side to its on-ice counterpart. “I’ve developed some skills, some mental skills, some technical skills, so I’m a human … it is what it is.”

Blue Jackets fans, and frankly anyone paying even a small amount of attention to his situation, will remember Bob’s cryptic answers to questions surrounding his future earlier this month.

Both “Bob” and the Blue Jackets find themselves in an interesting situation. Bobrovsky, of course, is set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season and talks on a new contract aren’t where you might think they should be given the skill Bobrovsky possesses.

Added to the list of stressors is a crummy preseason for the 30-year-old, who is the frontrunner to win the Vezina this year according to the bookies.

One wonders how much his contract situation is playing on his mind, and if it is, how much is it going to affect his season. Bobrovsky’s play is paramount to Columbus’s chances this season.

[Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule]

But there’s plenty of distractions, especially when you include Artemi Panarin‘s contract situation as well. On Thursday, the team found out they’d be without their best defenseman for four-to-six weeks, piling even more adversity onto the team.

These are trying times in Ohio.

There’s every reason to believe the Blue Jackets’ window is open to take a run at the Cup, but it slams shut if Bobrovsky isn’t playing at his best.

Re-signing a two-time Vezina winner seems like a no-brainer, but it seems like there is more at play here than what is seen in the public eye.

Bobrovsky has said he won’t negotiate a new deal during the season, so there’s less than a week to figure that out or a lot of uncertainty going forward.

Further reading: PHT’s Season Preview Roundtable: Blue Jackets, Rinne’s future, surprise teams

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

Backstrom provides OT winner as Capitals take 3-2 series lead

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The Washington Capitals are on the verge of the second round.

Yes, the Capitals, who began the series with back-to-back losses in Game 1 and 2 to the Columbus Blue Jackets, are now on the brink of eliminating Ohio’s team after Nicklas Backstrom‘s deft deflection in overtime gave the Capitals their third straight win and a 3-2 series lead.

It was the fourth time in the series both clubs played to a tie in regulation. After Columbus won the first two in OT, Washington replied with a win in double-overtime in Game 3 before Backstrom ended Game 5 at the 11:53 mark of the first frame of free hockey.

Backstrom scored his first goal of the series to open the scoring for the Caps and assisted for the sixth time in the series on the go-ahead goal in the second period before Oliver Bjorkstrand tied it in third.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Braden Holtby had to be sharp, especially in the third period as, inexplicably, the Caps were outshot 16-1. At home. Holtby made 40 saves when it was all said and done.

Two-hundred feet away, Sergei Bobrovsky was up to the task, making some silly stops including a big one on Alex Ovechkin earlier in overtime and a bigger one in regulation time off the same man’s stick.

Game 6 of this series is slated for Monday in Columbus, with a start time still to be determined.

In his post-game comments, Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella said, twice, that his team will be back in the capital for Game 7.

The promise has been made.


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