Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky has not played since a groin injury forced him to leave the game early on Dec. 3 against Tampa Bay.
If things go according to plan, though, he could be back on the ice in game action very soon.
After traveling with the team to Raleigh last week and working with Blue Jackets goaltending coach Ian Clark, Bobrovsky took part in an optional practice on Monday at Nationwide Arena and put some hard work in with Clark and some teammates. His original prognosis in early December was a 4-5 week recovery that put him on track to return sometime in the new year.
Bobrovsky, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, has felt increasingly better of late and will be traveling with the Blue Jackets on their western road trip this week.
Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said that Bobrovsky is "getting closer" to making a return and could play at some point on the road trip, or at least be available to play.
The 25-year-old Bobrovsky made 23 starts for the Blue Jackets prior to his injury, holding a record of 10-11-2 in those games with a 2.72 goals-against average and .909 save percentage. His play had steadily improved before he got hurt, and there's no question that Bobrovsky back in the mix will be a big boost for the Blue Jackets.
And that's not to take anything away from Curtis McElhinney and Mike McKenna, Richards said, as both goaltenders have done a terrific job filling in during Bobrovsky's absence. They've stepped up when called upon, but as Richards points out, the Blue Jackets' overall team game has improved in recent weeks as well.
Both of those factors have combined to keep the Blue Jackets in the Metropolitan Division race as the calendar flips to 2014.
"Our team game has been better and our structure has been better and that's protected our goalies, but our goalies have still made some big saves at key times when you need them to," Richards said. "You look at the Carolina game in the last seconds and McKenna makes a great save on a pass across...it's making those timely saves and our team play has done a better job as far as insulating our goaltenders.
"They both have done a great job for us."
Other notes from today's optional practice...
- Nathan Horton skated again today and took some hits from his teammates, including Brandon Dubinsky. Horton and Dubinsky engaged in a spirited 1-on-1 battle drill that tested Horton's repaired shoulder and he said he felt good after practice - perhaps better than he expected to feel.
- Richards said that it's a possibility for Horton to play on the Blue Jackets' four-game road trip which begins tomorrow night in Denver. Nothing is set in stone regarding a return date for Horton, who has ramped up the on and off-ice work in order to get back into peak hockey condition.
- Ryan Craig was recalled on Monday morning and will be the extra forward on the Jackets' road trip.
- Matt Calvert, who was a possibility to travel with the team this week, is staying back in Columbus for the time being, Richards said today. There's a chance he could join the team in St. Louis and potentially play on Jan. 6 against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.