Columbus Blue Jackets' rebound hopes hinge on Sergei Bobrovsky

Columbus Blue Jackets' rebound hopes hinge on Sergei Bobrovsky

LOS ANGELES – Sergei Bobrovsky doesn’t have much of a memory from the earliest parts of the 2015-16 season.

There was a point when he didn’t allow fewer than three goals per-game for seven straight starts. At one point he told reporters his confidence was shot. From the outside it appeared the 2013 Vezina Trophy winner was a mess.

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“You try to focus on the right moment right here right now,” Bobrovsky said. “You do your best and keep focusing and do your best and keep focusing on the moment and what you have right now. You don’t worry about what’s been in the past.”

It seems neglect is the best form of coping for Bobrovsky, and the rest of the Blue Jackets in this situation.

“I haven’t said one word to him,” new Columbus coach John Tortorella said. “I don’t think like a goalie. I want him to stop the puck. That’s all I think about goaltending.”

As Tortorella tries to take the Blue Jackets back from the abyss of an 0-8-0 start to the year, resurrecting Bobrovsky could be his most important challenge. Ryan Johansen calls Bobrovsky  “backbone” of the team. As Bobrovsky goes – so go the Blue Jackets.

“We need him every night if we’re going to be winning hockey games or be in hockey games. He needs to be on his game for us every night for us to have success,” Johansen said.

After an 0-4-0 start, Bobrovsky said he had “zero” confidence.

At that stage he had a 5.05 goal-against average and .830 save percentage. The conditioning was there and the preparation was there for Bobrovsky. But something was just off.

His teammates still don’t believe he had a problem – that it was more a team-wide thing.

“He might have said it but I don’t believe he felt that way,” forward Brandon Dubinsky said. “Here’s a guy who knows how good he is and prepares every day to be that good."

Tortorella has limited experience with Bobrovsky so far, but sees a goaltender with strong work ethic and preparation. Tortorella compared Bobrovsky to Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers. Both are former Vezina winners.

“I’ve had Lundqvist in New York who was just an animal as far as preparing. I’m looking at this guy – he’s very similar. I’m not worried about his preparation,” Tortorella said. “He needs someone to talk to who understands the position. I don’t want to understand the position, I don’t profess to understand the position. I want him to stop the puck.”

When Tortorella was brought in to coach Columbus, the team was careful in pointing out that the Blue Jackets simply didn’t defend well enough for the goaltender.

Confidence for a netminder is fragile in hockey, and it’s important for the goaltender to not feel 100 percent responsible for the goals he’s allowed.

There are few positions in the sport that are black and white like goaltending. Either you stop the puck or let in a goal.

“In our situation with Bob it was as much of a surprise for me to see him not at the top of a game as it was for other people on our team,” president of hockey operations John Davidson said. “It’s not just Bob, it’s a collective situation but I think we’re on our way.”

Added Davidson, “The one thing with Bob is his demands for perfection from within. His work habits are second-to-none. You know he’s going to work his way out of it.”

So far the Blue Jackets have done a bit better in front of Bobrovsky. Though he was yanked in Columbus’ Halloween night loss to Winnipeg, he has gone 3-2-0 in his last five contests, not giving up more than three goals in a game. A 41-save performance against the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday is Bobrovsky’s biggest win so far.

Has Tortorella pushed the right buttons? Ask him and he defers to goaltending coach Ian Clark. Whether the results were going to come regardless, it’s clear the simplification of the Blue Jackets with a new voice in Tortorella, who replaced Todd Richards as coach two weeks ago, certainly helps with the team and the goaltender.

“I thought he played fantastic (against the Sharks),” Tortorella said. “His game has been coming. I think it took a little step back against Winnipeg like all of us, but (against the Sharks), especially the second half of that game he was outstanding. I try to stay out of the way.”

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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