The Blue Jackets won 43 games in 2013-14, and 32 of them were recorded by Sergei Bobrovsky – their undisputed No. 1 guy and the 2013 Vezina Trophy winner.
But not to overlooked or understated were the 10 wins and 21 points accumulated by Curtis McElhinney, the 31-year-old one-time journeyman goaltender who has now found a home as the backup goaltender in Columbus.
When Bobrovsky suffered a groin injury in December, many on the outside were concerned that the season was about to fall apart before Christmas, and that the Blue Jackets would need something short of a miracle to stay in the race without their No. 1 goalie.
Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards wasn't too concerned. He knew that McElhinney, a terrific teammate and a guy who has been through the grind at all levels, would be ready for the challenge. His task was to keep the Jackets in the playoff hunt and shoulder the load until Bobrovsky returned, and he did just that.
He hasn’t missed a beat this preseason, either; McElhinney recorded a 36-save shutout on Monday night against the Nashville Predators (a 3-0 win to move the Jackets to 5-1-0 in the exhibition) and looks to be in top form as the regular season approaches.
“Curtis won some big games for us last year,” Richards said. “He came into some tough situations and some tough games and played really well for us. And then when Bob was hurt, he stepped in as well.”
If you ask Bobrovsky, he feels like he could start every one of the Blue Jackets’ 82 regular season games but having a player like McElhinney – who knows and fully understands his role – allows Richards and the coaching staff to manage their starting goaltender’s workload.
Bobrovsky has started 96 of 130 regular season games since joining the Blue Jackets in 2012, including 38 of 48 in the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign, but McElhinney has proven that he’s ready when called upon.
Even if he was a little too humble after his shutout performance in Nashville.
“It felt I was fighting it a little bit (against Nashville),” McElhinney said. “It was a well-fought effort in our own end, which was nice to see. They were terrific, whether it was picking up sticks, clearing pucks or what not, they did a great job.
“I thought we played pretty well as a team. A lot of areas of our game were working out.”
In the near term, the Blue Jackets’ goaltending situation is in capable hands, pads and blockers, and in the long term, there’s much to be excited about.
Anton Forsberg and Oscar Dansk, both under 21 years old, are competing for the starting job in Springfield and have played well against NHL competition during training camp.
“Really, our goaltenders have been good through this camp, and I’m talking about Forsberg and Dansk, too, they’ve come in some tough situations,” Richards said. “It’s never easy coming in cold, just off the bench and jumping into an NHL game.
“Bob’s been very good, Curtis has been great – but that’s what I expect because I saw those guys play last year.”