The goaltending situation for the Blue Jackets looks starkly different than it did a year ago for the start of the 2012-13 shortened season.
Steve Mason and Sergei Bobrovsky battled it out in training camp, with Bobrovsky earning the opening night start. He shared the starting duties with Mason for a while, but after Bobrovsky proved he could handle the responsibility of being a consistent starter in net and Todd Richards named him the leading netminder, he and the Blue Jackets never looked back.
Fast forward several months, and the Blue Jackets find themselves in a much different (and hopefully stable) goaltending situation moving forward.
Bobrovsky took advantage of the opportunity presented to him and carried the Blue Jackets to a 19-5-5 finish to the season, earning himself the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's best goaltender (.932 save percentage, 2.00 GAA, 2,219 minutes played) and leading the Blue Jackets to what many considered an "unlikely" race for the final Stanley Cup playoff spot in the Western Conference. Bobrovsky's performance last season also earned him a hefty contract and paycheck, a two-year, multi-million dollar deal--one that is up there with Jimmy Howard, Henrik Lundqvist and Martin Brodeur, who are some of the most established and best goalies in the league.
If the Blue Jackets want to continue the momentum they had at the end of last season, Bobrovsky will have to continue to prove he can live up to and play to what he's worth on paper. He has that contract because he is expected to lead the team to playoff contention. That is no easy task when considering the 48-game workload of last season, though fast-paced, when compared to a full 82-game season. That's the biggest question surrounding Bobrovsky: whether he was just playing well at the right time last season, or if what he did is truly what he is consistently capable of night in and night out for an entire NHL season.
Bobrovsky won't have to go the journey alone, though. He'll have Curtis McElhinney as his back-up, who is slated to fill in on nights when Bobrovsky could use extra rest. McElhinney, 30, has played 69 games in his 11-year NHL career for the Calgary Flames, Anaheim Ducks, Ottawa Senators and Phoenix Coyotes. The biggest question surrounding McElhinney right now? How much his age and NHL experience will be a factor in contributing to the Blue Jackets' success, or potential lack thereof.
The Bobrovsky-McElhinney tandem did a solid job in securing their spots during the 2013 training camp and preseason games, though McElhinney had to recover from a lower-body injury suffered late in camp. If Bobrovsky can continue his elite level of play from last season and if McElhinney can step up to the challenge of filling in when called upon, the Blue Jackets will be in great shape between the pipes.
In the system: Jeremy Smith and Mike McKenna (AHL - Springfield)