It could not have been easy for Philadelphia Flyers fans to see goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky hoist the 2013 Vezina Trophy one year after being traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets. There was no need, however, to rekindle any angst when Bobrovsky was named NHL Second Star of the Week heading into a game against the Flyers on Tuesday.
Bobrovsky would be the first to remind fans still upset by his departure that the goalie Philadelphia traded is not the same one now stopping pucks and winning awards in Columbus. He has made significant technical and tactical adjustments since leaving.
"I would say it's two different goalies right now comparing me in Philly and right now in Columbus," Bobrovsky told NHL.com. "I changed my style a lot. Mentally, physically, technically, all those things have changed here."
If that story sounds familiar to Philadelphia fans, it's because the Flyers' current goalie, Steve Mason, has undergone a similar transformation since arriving from Columbus in April 2013.
Like Bobrovsky, Mason has benefitted from tactical changes since joining a new team. In addition to easing the pain of losing Bobrovsky, Mason's resurgence in Philadelphia is another reminder that one style does not fit all when it comes to NHL goaltending.
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"It's two different guys," Bobrovsky said, referencing the changes to his game. "As soon as I got here I believed I needed a system to be confident and consistent. And that's not to say, 'I got my system and it's done, now we can just enjoy the game.' It's always you work on your system, add new things and work on it and polish technique and get better and better."
The biggest technical adjustment Bobrovsky made came soon after arriving in Columbus. It revolved around playing bigger than he did during his first two NHL seasons with the Flyers.
When Bobrovsky broke in as the NHL's Rookie of the Month in November 2010, he was an explosive, athletic goalie whose stature on the ice didn't always match his 6-foot-2 listing in the media guide. He is taller now through his core, especially while down in his butterfly. That was one of several adjustments that started in the summer of 2012 during sessions with Blue Jackets goalie coach Ian Clark.
"The biggest adjustment was just getting him higher," Clark said.
With his chest more upright, Bobrovsky's hands now are out in front of him rather than pulled back by his ears in relation to a forward-pitched torso, making for cleaner saves with the glove and the blocker. Another benefit of becoming taller is Bobrovsky is able to back off his positioning without sacrificing coverage. The conservative depth that results allows him use his quick feet more efficiently, beating the play to more neutral targets rather than chasing it outside his crease with huge lateral pushes that have the added detriment of lowering his center of gravity.
"He's using his speed more effectively," Clark said. "He was covering too much space. So take that quickness, put a little bit of a harness on it, and I think that's been a big maturation for him. It's not entirely been done here, that's his maturation."
Bobrovsky also added Reverse, or Reverse-VH, as a post-integration tactic. He asked Clark to bring in Oskar Dansk, a Blue Jackets prospect who excels at the relatively new technique, so they could work on it together. Clark, who also spends time coaching in Sweden and was part of the evolution of the Reverse from a static save selection to a complete movement into and off the posts, said that wrinkle has been instrumental in Bobrovsky playing a more controlled game.
"Instead of him flowing everywhere in his crease, he's always got a post target so he has no overflow in his game now," Clark said.
It's now a big part of Bobrovsky's new "system," which includes a philosophy of playing at different depths relative to his crease for rush chances vs. end-zone play, and the adoption of three stances depending on where the puck is.