Analysis: Special Teams Still A Barrier The Blue Jackets Will Need to Overcome

By Dan Dukart on October 15, 2018 at 3:26 pm
Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky takes a break after giving up a power play goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Douglas DeFelice – USA TODAY Sports

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In the seemingly endless battle between the "eye test" and analytics, there's one thing that we can universally agree on: the Blue Jackets are pretty solid – maybe even elite – at 5-on-5.

But as we know, hockey isn't played just at 5-on-5.

One doesn't need a long memory to remember the Blue Jackets flaming out with four straight losses to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals, going 0-for-16 on the power play in those four straight losses. The Blue Jackets scored on 4-of-8 man advantages in Games 1 and 2, both of which, you may recall, resulted in wins.

Meanwhile, the Capitals scored a power play goal in each of those four games, scoring on 4-of-14 opportunities. See where I'm going here?

It's still quite early in the season, so sample size is certainly an issue and over time, the numbers should regress to the mean. But similar to the losses to the Capitals in the playoffs, it's easy to draw a line between the two Blue Jackets losses and their special teams performance.

In the home opener, the club generally laid an egg, and while they didn't give up a power play goal (Carolina had but one chance), the Blue Jackets went 0-for-3 with the man advantage.

Against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Blue Jackets were much worse than generally laying an egg, and the special teams battle paints a clear picture of the difference between the two clubs. The Blue Jackets went 0-for-5 on the power play, including a four-minute power play at the beginning of the second period that could have really helped their momentum.

On the other side of the coin, the Lightning scored four (four!?) power play goals, going 4-for-7.

Sergei Bobrovsky was hung out to dry on several of the goals, no question. It's difficult to lose a game 8-2 in the NHL and hang it solely on a goalie. That said, Bobrovsky's struggles on the penalty kill are well documented and definitely not a new trend. His current save percentage of 70.59% (12-of-17) while shorthanded is among the lowest in the league.

Columbus has allowed six power play goals on 17 chances, good (bad?) for 64.7%, the second-lowest rate in the NHL. The worst penalty killing team in the NHL a season ago was the New York Islanders, who killed off 73.2% of chances. It's early, sure, but that's not a promising start.

Conversely, the power play is clicking at a 17.4% rate, scoring on 4-of-23 chances. Last year, the Blue Jackets finished the regular season at 17.2%, 25th in the league. 

Before the season, our Chris Pennington listed a few changes he would like to see to fix the power play, and it's still largely applicable today.

Returning a healthy Seth Jones to the lineup should help on both the power play and penalty kill. I feel strongly that both Jones and Werenski should be on the same power play unit at the same time, and that the two of them and Panarin should make up the "umbrella" (refer to players 1, 2, and 3 on the umbrella link), and that Cam Atkinson, Anthony Duclair, and Nick Foligno can figure out the other two spots. That would leave one of them, Alexander Wennberg, Boone Jenner, Oliver Bjorkstrand and Markus Nutivaara on the second unit. 

The team doesn't play any differently fundamentally on the penalty kill when Korpisalo is in net, yet the numbers suggest that he's a far stronger netminder than Bobrovsky while shorthanded. Per corsica.hockey, since the start of the 2017-18 season, Korpisalo has posted an .885 SV%, while Bobrovsky has posted an .822 SV%. 

It's early in the season and the Blue Jackets have a winning record. They're a good team that should once again find themselves in the thick of the playoff race. But until they solve their special teams woes, perhaps expectations should be tempered.

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