From scoring woes to odd-man rush problems, the Columbus Blue Jackets have identified several key areas in which they need to improve through four games.
But while some of them (take scoring) are difficult to improve in the abstract, others, like defensive zone faceoffs, are one system that can be cleaned up relatively quickly. Expect conversations to have already taken place.
When Bobby Ryan signed as a UFA with the Detroit Red Wings this offseason, even the rosiest of projections couldn't have imagined a scenario where the 33-year old is leading the NHL with four goals through three games. And yet, here we are.
In the first game against the Red Wings, Ryan opened the scoring with a quick strike off of an offensive zone faceoff. The Blue Jackets faceoff structure is for both left and right wings (Alexandre Texier and Liam Foudy, respectively) to line up in the slot and the weakside defenseman (David Savard) to line up directly against the opponent's right-wing.
This structure allows for Savard to engage immediately with a play in the corner or on the wall. By lining both wingers up in the slot, the Blue Jackets are placing less weight on a faceoff loss to the Red Wings right defenseman, since Savard wouldn't travel that far off of a lost draw and it would take longer for the LW to travel from the slot to the right point than from Savard's starting spot. However, this is a relatively low danger play.
The other potentially troubling piece with this formation is a quick play to the slot, where a winger would be tasked with guarding an opposition's forward in open space.
Enter Texier. As mentioned, Texier's responsibility here is the zone just north of the faceoff dot. Off a lost faceoff back to the right defenseman, Texier would need to get out to cut down on the defender's time and space and do so in a hurry. But his primary responsibility is guarding the Red Wings' left-winger (Ryan) and helping his center Nick Foligno secure puck possession. In this play, his route (north instead of west) gave Ryan all the time he needed to score. Note: some of the responsibility falls on Foligno, who allowed the puck to get to a dangerous part of the ice on the inside ice (though he did tie up his center). Going forward, look for all inside wingers to be more attentive to their checks off of defensive zone faceoffs.
On the second goal, the Red Wings executed a set play where Ryan skates up and around the circle, effectively losing his check (Zach Werenski) in traffic.
Cam Atkinson, who was in the same spot as Texier on the first goal, did a good job to get into the inside ice to prevent a similar goal as the above (I'm sure this was discussed between Games 1 and 2), while Boone Jenner was able to get out into the shooting lane to block the shot. The shot didn't get through but instead sat in the high-slot (shades of Oliver Bjorkstrand's goal in Game 1). Ryan - like Bjorsktrand - was 'johnny on the spot' and gets to the puck just before the outstretched stick of Seth Jones can deflect it.
Like the first goal, the responsibility here largely falls on the inside winger (Atkinson) for getting beat to the puck. Whereas Ryan beat Texier to a spot on the first play, Frans Nielsen got inside body position on Atkinson on the second, which allowed him to poke the puck to the point, where Detroit was able to begin their attack.
And like the first goal, some of the blame falls on the center - in this case, Max Domi. Faceoffs are in many ways a team statistic, but it's probably not a huge surprise that Foligno (46.2%) and Domi (43.5%) are part of the reason why the Blue Jackets (44.8%) rank 28th in the NHL in faceoff win percentage.
Look for the Blue Jackets to clean up their defensive zone structure immediately following faceoffs in the coming games.