What We Learned: Team Turnaround Will Start With Bob

By Kyle Morrison on December 31, 2017 at 10:15 am
Sergei Bobrovsky has struggled lately, especially against the Ottawa Senators earlier this week.
USA Today Sports – Marc DesRosiers

The NHL holiday break may be over, but the Jackets found a way to keep on giving gifts to their opponents in the days following. Losses to Pittsburgh and Ottawa were both due in part to third-period breakdowns, and the Jackets will face a lethal Tampa Bay Lightning team tonight, hoping to turn it around.

Here are some of the lessons we learned this week – and what they mean for the next stretch of the season.

Bob Needs to be Bob

Turns out, even the best goalie in the world isn’t immune to bad stretches of play. Unfortunately for the Jackets, this one is coming at a time when they need him the most.

This month, amidst a calamity of injuries and a Metropolitan battle everyone’s within striking distance of the top spot, Bob is 4-6-3 with a .891 save percentage. Last December – during The Streak™, Bob went 11-0-0 with a .941 save percentage. That’s night and day.

Something’s off with Bob’s game right now, and nothing illustrated that more than this misplay against the Senators earlier this week.

Of course, this is Sergei Bobrovsky we’re talking about here. He’s gone through rough stretches throughout his career, and he’s always bounced back. He’s just two games removed from a 2-1 shootout win over the Flyers in which he was masterful and a 39-save shootout loss in Pittsburgh in which he looked great. Can’t forget about his 35-save shutout against the Coyotes, either, when he played his second game in as many nights.

He’s carried this team before. Right now, the team might have to carry him.

Bob Needs Help, Too

Expanding on that point, Zach Werenski’s return is an encouraging sign. Likely the best player on the entire Jackets roster, Werenski’s absence was a huge blow to the team in the interim. He’s back, and still paired with another elite defenseman, Seth Jones.

That’s the good part. The bad? This team is still missing key pieces at forward, and the goals have to come from somewhere.

Nick Foligno played 24:26 the other night in Pittsburgh – and actually played fairly well, for the most part – but he’s not a natural center. His missed shot on a 2-on-1 shorthanded rush led to a Penguins power play goal the other way late in the game. A veteran like Foligno needs to know better than to try to snipe a high corner in that situation.

Sequences like that give some insight into Bob’s struggles. Even if he’s off his game right now, giving up odd-man rushes and blowing assignments makes Bobrovsky look even worse – and can’t be good for his confidence.

Finish The Damn Game

The last two games have not been pretty in this regard.

First, the Jackets gave up three goals in the third period in Pittsburgh, blowing what was a two-goal lead and eventually losing in a shootout. Two nights later, the Jackets went into the third period all tied up in Ottawa, and gave up two quick goals before getting one back in garbage time.

The saddest silver lining ever: neither of those are close to the worst third period effort that the Jackets have had this season. That honor belongs to the game against Boston a couple of weeks ago, in which the Jackets gave up 15 (!) scoring chances in the third, while only generating two. That led to four third-period Boston goals.

Still, the last week’s struggles in the third may be symptomatic of a team that’s overworked, with a score of players thrust into bigger roles and minutes they’re not used to at this level thanks to a sudden rash of injuries to stars.

The solution? Aside from getting healthy or making a move for another center, the answer is more discipline.

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