When the Blue Jackets acquired Sergei Bobrovsky this summer, they hoped for an all-out battle between he and Steve Mason for the No. 1 goaltending spot in training camp. They now have that competition.
Todd Richards said he figured Bobrovsky -- who won 16 of 24 games in a starting role in Russia's KHL during the lockout, including one of the league's best goals-against averages -- would come into camp as the sharper of the two netminders, and after a few days of practice, Mason would catch up.
To this point, the goaltending situation has transpired pretty much how he'd anticipated, but Richards knows there is a long road ahead before anything is settled.
In the first three days of Blue Jackets Training Camp presented by OhioHealth, the pace has been high and there's been virtually no slowing down for a team that wants to make sure it's ready for its season opener in four days. Usually that means a lot of pucks coming the goalie's way, and both Mason and Bobrovsky have shown well in the first set of practices.
Bobrovsky was strong in Sunday's practice, showing the "willing to out-wait the shooter until it's no longer possible" degree of patience and quick feet that scouts have associated with his game. Those are two of the characteristics that made him a top NHL rookie a few years ago, and ultimately, are what could lead him back to top form as a member of the Blue Jackets.
But here's the burning question on everyone's mind: where does that leave the two goaltenders, and does one or the other have the inside track on Saturday night's start in Nashville? Richards isn't ready to appoint a starting netminder, but he's encouraged by what has transpired.
"Right now, I don’t see much separation," Richards said of his goalies. "I think Bobrovsky having come in and played games (in the KHL), I expected a smoother transition and that’s exactly what we’ve got. With Steve, I wasn’t sure and to be quite honest with you I’m extremely pleased with what I’ve seen. He’s working very hard, and based on what we saw in the scrimmage today, I think both goaltenders played well."
Mason skated with a group of Blue Jackets teammates in the week leading up to training camp, and saw a lot of action as the only goalie skating in practice. After a revamped and aggressive offseason training regimen, Mason came to Columbus nearly 15 lbs. lighter and in excellent physical condition.
Richards said sometimes the mere suggestion of having to earn your spot can be the best internal drive for players.
"It’s a great motivator, the battle for ice time," Richards said. "Playing in this type of schedule that we have, we’re going to need everyone not only here but players in Springfield to step in when we need them."