There are no shortages of superlatives for just how bad the Blue Jackets' start was. 0-8-0 set a modern record for futility. The team looked lost. They looked unable to stop anyone from scoring. A big part of that was the struggle of Sergei Bobrovsky in net, culminating in him admitting he had "zero confidence" after a home loss to Ottawa. After six starts in those first eight games, things looked bleak for the player upon which much of the original defensive confidence was based:
I mean. Damn. That guy once won a Vezina?
I don't have to tell you that those numbers are quite bad. Not all of that is on Bob, as the team gave up 168 scoring chances in those six games, 63 of those being classified as "high danger" chances. That means they were averaging 10 "high danger" chances per game in Bob's first six, including a staggering 18 high danger chances in the second game against the Rangers.
But, yeah, Bob also let in his share of softies.
We may never know how much of the turnaround on the defensive end is John Tortorella's system changes, and how much is Bob coming back to the guy we expected. Considering those numbers above, let's look at Bob's numbers now, with 24 games played this season:
Those aren't earth-shattering numbers by any stretch: his GAA is 29th among goalies who've played at least 10 games, and his save percentage is 26th using that same measure. So, I'm not here to say we should start printing the Bob 4 Vezina buttons again. Not at all.
But look deeper at what gets you from that first set of numbers to the second. In the 18 games since those first six, Bob has had two games in which he allowed four goals (thanks in large part to his team crapping out in front of him) against Vancouver and San Jose at home. He also had a clunker at home against Winnipeg. Even with all of those games included, Bob's numbers over that 18-game stretch are pretty astounding:
Those numbers include three absolute stinkers. However, included in there is a 39-save shutout, seven games in which he allowed one goal, and six games with just two goals allowed. That's 14 games with two or fewer goals allowed, and 10 of the last 11 games he's played are games in which he's allowed two goals or less (the outlier was that San Jose game).
In those 14 games out of the 18 in which Bob has been what I would call "great" (in that giving up two or fewer goals is "great" I guess), Bob's numbers have been amazing:
Wow. I mean. Wow. The team has also, in that stretch, lowered their team GA/GP from 4.63 after their 0-8-0 start to their current mark of 2.86. That may not seem like much, but it is a huge improvement.
This streak of 18 games is arguably one of Bob's best extended stretches of play as a Blue Jacket. He was better during the final stretch run in his Vezina season (he had a .946 sv% over his final 26 games that season), and roughly the same during last season's crazy December run, though that was a smaller sample size (and then he got smoked in Arizona).
I maintain that the playoffs remain a far off pipe dream for the club unless they can maintain this level of defense while finally finding some consistent offense. But, if we think this team has any shot, this is the guy that's going to get it done for them. They need Bob healthy and playing at this level essentially for the rest of the season.
The most important thing? The sample size is now big enough to safely say that those first six games for Bob were the exception, and that the rule is more like what we saw in pre-season and expected when the season started.
Now, if we could just stop wasting those games and start scoring some goals with regularity.