COLUMBUS, Ohio - Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen confidently states that, in difficult situations, he tends to take the optimistic approach.
He stayed true to those words this afternoon in the wake of Sergei Bobrovsky heading to injured reserve with a groin strain, an injury that's projected to keep the Vezina Trophy winner out of action for 4-5 weeks. Bobrovsky, injured on a non-contact play in the third period of Tuesday's 1-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, has not missed time due to injury since joining the Blue Jackets in 2012 and appeared to be on the cusp of turning his game around.
And while that's one of the disappointing aspects of losing the starting goaltender, Kekalainen and Blue Jackets management reiterated their confidence in Curtis McElhinney today. Signed as a free agent to a two-way deal in 2012, McElhinney rebounded from nearly career-ending surgery and grabbed hold of the No. 1 job in Springfield, leading the Falcons to a 45-win season and one of their most successful campaigns in franchise history.
When Kekalainen re-signed McElhinney to a one-way contract this past July, he knew a situation such as this could arise - and he is a firm believer that McElhinney can get the job done.
"I don't really like the word 'backup' because he's a goalie that's capable of playing in the National Hockey League and that's why we gave him a one-way contract," Kekalainen told BlueJackets.com. "He was consistently playing at a high level last year with Springfield, and that's the mindset you have: whatever happens, he's good enough to step in and take responsibility.
"It's going to be more than a regular schedule for Curtis, but he's ready for it. If you look around the league, this has happened to Jonathan Quick and Pekka Rinne, and it's worked out for those teams and I'm confident it will work out for us, too."
The workload will be quite different in the interim for McElhinney, but he has played well in his return to the NHL. He made 38 saves in a very important win for the Blue Jackets over the Vancouver Canucks on Oct. 20, and was strong again despite a 3-1 loss last Saturday night in Boston (33 saves).
McElhinney owns a 2.34 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage in five starts and eight appearances, nothing to scoff at when looking at a guy who's going to step into the No. 1 role for the next month-plus.
"I'm sort of always the optimist in these situations," Kekalainen said. "As unfortunate as it is to go through injuries and injuries to those guys with more of a bigger role, it's an opportunity for someone else. Curtis has patiently waited for every opportunity he's gotten so far...he's worked his butt off. He's played really well for us, and now he has a great chance with the unfortunate thing that's happened to Sergei.
"I think Curtis will do fine, I really do."
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