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It’s Been Time to Give Korpisalo a Serious Look

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Sergei Bobrovsky has struggled; Joonas Korpisalo has largely been an unknown. A look into the ugly numbers to start the season, and how the time is now to find out just what Korpisalo can do.

Columbus Blue Jackets v New Jersey Devils Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

What's wrong with Sergei Bobrovsky? He wasn’t sharp in preseason, allowing 13 goals versus 72 saves in just parts of three exhibition games. The regular-season track record tells you Bobrovsky likely comes around and figures it out. Two Vezina awards in his closet only speaks credence to that.

But one thing that stands out this year versus all other seasons is the clear elephant in the room.

An unsettled contract situation for a future unrestricted free agent. Bobrovsky would not shed light on that, other than to say Blue Jackets’ management knows what his plans are prior to the season. Which, without saying much, seems to fully indicate what Bobrovsky plans to do. Given his rights as a potential free agent, I can’t blame any player for trying to maximize their earnings. Among the best goalies to become available — the other is 35-year-old Pekka Rinne — Bobrovsky, 30, no doubt intends to get the best contract he can get, both financially, and with an eye on which club allows him the best chance to win.

Whether that be in Central Ohio, his home for parts of seven seasons, or elsewhere.

And I always endorse professional athletes getting the best contract they can; they’ve earned that and the right to seek out their largest bidder. Just like I expect teams to deny themselves the allure of overpaying for star athletes, more focusing on future expectancy than what that player produced previously. And Columbus has a few options within their radar.

Colorado Avalanche v Columbus Blue Jackets Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

I’ve been very vocal about seeing more of Joonas Korpisalo this season. And in a way, that’s more of an automatic anyway, as Korpisalo would have to clear waivers before being sent to Cleveland this year. Last year, Korpisalo appeared in 18 games for Columbus, when he wasn’t heading north to Cleveland during Jackets off-days and allotted Bobrovsky starts.

A purpose was in place, with designs of Korpisalo getting more playing time in Cleveland and above all, more development time. This meant Bobrovsky played in 65 games for the Blue Jackets, a career high, and the most minutes of his career (3,912). Then there’s the additional six playoff games that Sergei started last April against the Capitals including parts of five overtime periods.

Whether the potential fatigue from all those minutes in 2017-18 could have a carryover, the doubts about his future and contract situation weighing on him, or reduced goalie chest pads that Bobrovsky and other goalies have not withheld criticism of, any, some, or none of that could explain what is wrong with Bobrovsky so far inside the first month of 2018-19.

Maybe that psychologist could have helped.

Certainly, Bobrovsky has yet to look comfortable in between the pipes during his six starts this season. At 2-4. 3.87, .827%, you can say it’s early and it is. But you can’t deny that the results haven’t been there.

Chart by Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey)

Bobrovsky has quite literally been among the worst performers in goal across the NHL to date, in terms of goalie SV% verses expected SV%.

Chart by Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey)

His best game so far this season was the 5-2 win against the Avalanche, a team off to a nice start, and a game in which Sergei stopped 27 of 29 for a .926 SV%.

Immediately four days later, his next start, and sandwiched around Korpisalo starting the tilt against the Panthers, Bobrovsky and the Jackets were lit up for eight goals by the Lightning in an 8-2 defeat at Tampa. Naturally, that game goes a long way towards the skewing the numbers in a negative fashion. Furthermore, it was a perfect storm of sorts, with the Lightning coming off a 4-1 loss to the Canucks, a game in which they allowed four third-period goals.

Bobrovsky settled in against the Flyers next time out. In a 6-3 win, he tossed aside 35 of 38 (.914). Against the Blackhawks and Coyotes, the Jackets got off to quick starts and experienced many unconverted chances, and only one goal apiece to show for it, in matching 4-1 losses.

It would be tough to blame Bobrovsky for all the goals versus Arizona. A rare miscue by Artemi Panarin, turning over the puck inside the zone and leading to a 2-on-0 goal doesn’t help Bobrovsky.

Christian Fischer had the touch that night, scoring his first-career hat trick, putting a snap shot past Bobrovsky, again as a result of a turnover up the ice, but Bobrovsky still had time to see these plays developing.

Or maybe we’re just a little spoiled. We’re used to Bobrovsky stealing a period and a game. He hasn’t played with the same vigor or showed the same step as previous years. At least not yet.

Chart by Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey)

At 24-years-old, for Korpisalo (4-0, 3.46, .897), a serviceable backup over the past few seasons, this season marks a huge year for him, and the Jackets as well. It’s his chance to show what a potential life after ‘Bob’ could feature. Prior to the season, there was the anticipated buzz of Elvis Merzlikins, drafted by Columbus in 2014 and finishing out his contract for HC Lugano in Switzerland. He will be in Columbus for 2019-20. A healthy competition of goaltenders can’t be a bad thing, and maybe Bobrovsky also feels the pressure of Korpisalo. Maybe Korpisalo came in with an added fuel based on the Merzlikins prospects.

Who knows.

Washington Capitals v Columbus Blue Jackets - Game Six

It’s believed that Bobrovsky has submitted to the team his list for potential trade destinations. Probably not a very newsworthy mention, but all the same, in this situation of a supposed unhappy Bobrovsky and shaky play to boot, the sweltering pot stews a little more with an added spice. It’s doubtful any trade happens, especially soon, as he has a no-move clause, and needs to play up to his star value.

I would think for a goalie with a future contract in sights and a whole lot to play for this season, Bobrovsky would not purposely sabotage his season due to contract frustrations. I do believe in the human element, the wondering and nature of not knowing, causing havoc on the psyche. Bobrovsky referenced that before the season.

But before anyone is quick to point out that Korpisalo has allowed 4-consecutive goals in his last three starts, yes, that will need to improve. Just like his rate of playing time, three starts separated by at least a week apart. At least if you expect a backup goalie to really show his true potential with more regularity.

NHL.com

The added addition of Seth Jones back in the lineup is a nice healthy boost for a defensive corps that allows 31.6 shots per game (15th). It will also be interesting to see who gets the net against the Red Wings Tuesday night. Bobrovsky has 12 career wins against the Wings in 18 career games, with a .936 SV% and 1.98 GAA. But Korpisalo is 4-0, 1-0 against Detroit this season, the only team he has limited to under three goals.