It's not exactly breaking news that the Columbus Blue Jackets have had a hard time beating the Pittsburgh Penguins.
After losing seven straight games dating back more than two seasons, the Blue Jackets find themselves in a precarious position: Beat the Penguins, or fall further out of the playoff race. With two games between now and Saturday night against the same Penguins, the Blue Jackets have a tremendous challenge, and an equally big opportunity.
With two giant points on the line, the Blue Jackets should turn to their goalie that gives them the best chance of winning against the Penguins. His name is Keith Kinkaid.
Kinkaid, who was brought in by General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen as an insurance policy for Sergei Bobrvovsky and Joonas Korpisalo, has yet to play a minute for the Blue Jackets. Hell, it's likely that the only reason he was even on the bench for Tuesday night's road game in Newark, NJ, was so that his old team, the Devils, could honor him with a video tribute.
But Kinkaid has been excellent in his career against the Penguins, and the Blue Jackets would be making the sound decision to play their new goalie against the Penguins on Thursday night.
High stakes, no doubt, for a guy who's never stopped a puck for Columbus. But consider that Kinkaid boasts a career record of 6-3-2 against the Penguins. Last year, Kinkaid and Taylor Hall willed the Devils to the playoffs. His record against the Penguins? 3-0-1. This year, the Devils were far out of a playoff spot and have a host of injuries. But Kinkaid is still sporting a 3-1-0 record against the dangerous Penguins. Kinkaid isn't going to fool anyone for Henrik Lundqvist, but his 6-1-1 record in his last eight games may make John Tortorella and goalie coach Manny Legace think twice.
Bobrovksy's postseason struggles are well-chronicled, against the Penguins or anyone, but his regular season numbers against Pittsburgh have been disastrous as well, especially as of late. In his only appearance against Pittsburgh this season, he gave up four goals in a 5-2 loss. A season ago, he was 0-1-3, giving up 16 goals in the four games.
Doesn't take a genius to do the math: Bobrovsky has given up an average of four goals against the Penguins in every game over the last five games. Even more troubling, he's given up four or more goals to Pittsburgh in each of his past four outings against Sidney Crosby and company.
History isn't on his side, either. Bobrovsky has a career (regular season and playoffs) 3.14 goals-against average (not the most telling stat in the world, but is bad enough that it bears mentioning), and has only given up fewer than two goals in five out of 36 games against Pittsburgh. He's never shut out the Penguins.
The Blue Jackets have played Penguins twice this season, starting Korpisalo in the first and Bobrovsky in the second. Both goalies gave up four goals, and both games ended in regulation losses.
Now, it's completely unfair to pin the blame solely on Bobrovsky (or Korpisalo). The Penguins often make the Blue Jackets appear ordinary, and the goalie is the beneficiary of porous defense.
One could argue that showing this blatant lack of confidence in a starting goalie could harm a relationship between the club and the player, but at this point, it's safe to say that the relationship is already frayed. Bobrovsky almost certainly won't be back in Columbus next season, so it's largely a moot point. Plus, should they make the playoffs, how much of a leash would Bobrovsky have to work with, anyways?
The Blue Jackets have basically no margin for error in the coming days and weeks. The Penguins live rent free in Bobrovsky's (and many of the Blue Jackets, frankly) head. With so much on the line, the coaching staff should make the bold call to bring in their insurance policy from the bullpen. If not now, when?
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