Analysis: Diagnosing What's Plaguing The Columbus Blue Jackets

By Dan Dukart on October 25, 2018 at 10:14 am
Pierre-Luc Dubois battles for a puck during the third period of the Blue Jackets ugly loss to the Arizona Coyotes

Russell LaBounty – USA TODAY Sports

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A casual sports fan may look at the NHL standings and not think anything of a team that's gone 4-4-0 to start its season. 

It certainly isn't awful, and Blue Jackets fans may remember an 0-8-0 start to the 2015-16 season. But it also certainly isn't great, and there's plenty of blame to go around. 

The Blue Jackets have had three separate three-plus day breaks in the schedule, and have played just three playoff teams from a year ago (they're coincidentally 2-1-0 in those games). They've lost by a score of 4-1 in back to back games to non-playoff Western Conference teams, and while they perhaps deserved a better fate against Chicago, they definitely did not against Arizona.

Wednesday's practice started with a conversation that was likely not very cheery. 

It's not as though this is a team that doesn't want to play consistently well; so, what's holding them back from doing so?

What Happened to Bob?

If it feels like this is a tired narrative, it's probably because it's still true. Sergei Bobrovsky hasn't been bad this year – he's been abjectly terrible. 

Among the 31 goalies that have played in at least five games, Bobrovsky's .872 save percentage ranks second lowest in the NHL (200 minutes played), besting only James Reimer. Bobrovsky's 5v5 Sv% is 87.94%, and per corsica, his expected 5v5 Sv% is 91.25%. That save percentage difference of -3.3 (between what is expected and what actually happens) is also the second lowest in the league, ahead of just Martin Jones. 

It's been a struggle all the way through for Bobrovsky. Corsica breaks out shots by "low", "medium", and "high" danger, and none of the results are favorable. His low danger Sv% of 95.24 and medium danger Sv% of 86.36% rank second lowest in the NHL (behind Marc-Andre Fleury and Mike Smith, respectively). He's performed better against high danger, stopping 76.47, 22nd in the NHL, but that's still not good enough for a (formerly) elite goalie.

Something Resembling a Power Play

The power play is still bad. Really bad, actually. In the Blue Jackets' past four games (1-3-0), they've managed zero power play goals. They've gone 0-14 in that stretch. We've been critical of the team's special teams play, and will continue to be. 

Amazingly, the club's 12.5% power play conversion rate ranks 27th in the league (as of Wednesday evening), meaning that four NHL teams are somehow worse. If you hear a groan on TV or at the game when the Blue Jackets go on the power play, don't be surprised: Their 5.5% rate at home is third-worst in the league, and only 44.5% worse than the Washington Capitals' home power play.

Consistency From Forwards

After berating the power play and goaltending, it's difficult to put another element in the same bucket. But through eight games, it feels like the Blue Jackets forwards fall into one of two categories: Dynamic or Invisible. 

Artemi Panarin and Cam Atkinson have been the former most nights, in their defense. But the play from centers, especially Pierre-Luc Dubois and Alexander Wennberg, leaves one wanting more. Riley Nash hasn't been a good fit yet (it's early), and Lukas Sedlak has been a ghost. On the wings, Sonny Milano and Oliver Bjorkstrand are already more-than-flirting with fourth line minutes. Josh Anderson, Nick Foligno, and Boone Jenner have had as many energetic/productive games as invisible/listless. 

Who would have guessed that after eight games, people would be clamoring for the return of Brandon Dubinsky. 

The good news is they're still right in the thick of the standings. They've played well enough to win some games they should have (Chicago, especially), and won some that they probably deserved to lose (Florida, especially). If this team can capture some consistency and get its best players playing like they can, it's a team to be reckoned with. But I figured we'd see it after eight games. 

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