Just four games into what will be a sprint of a season, it’s too early to look at data as true measures of a team’s abilities, but with games coming fast and furious, the numbers can certainly serve as indicators on what is working and what needs help.
With that in mind, we’ve started a regular series that will happen every few weeks: “Stock Up: Stock Down” where we will highlight three measures that are reasons for optimism and three things that make us clench our fists in frustration.
Let’s dig in.
Alexandre Texier – the real deal
Stat line: 3-1--4, 4 GP
Alexandre Texier burst onto the NHL radar two seasons ago scoring his first goal in Ottawa before being a key part of the Blue Jackets’ win over Tampa Bay in the playoffs. But last season, hampered by a stress fracture in his back, he seemed to struggle and not be as impactful a player as hoped. But the player was feisty and noticeable in last season’s bubble, and this season, has roared to a 3-1—4 stat line while staying aggressive away from the puck and earning 16:32 per game. We finally seem to be seeing what Texier is all about, and that’s a good thing.
Michael Del Zotto – contributing at both ends of the ice
Best shot quality suppression: 0.79 expected goals per 60
Stat line: 1-2—3
It’s been well discussed that a PTO in COVID times is a rare thing, so while it was surprising Del Zotto came to Columbus’ camp via one, it seemed a signal this player was destined for a spot on the roster. Make no mistake – he’s made good use of it. The most obvious contributions have been on the score sheet for Del Zotto, but for a player who’s known primarily for his offensive contributions, he’s also notably been part of the defensive pair that has tilted the ice most effectively for the Blue Jackets limiting opponents to the fewest shots against and lowest quality against.
Penalty Kill – still good
88.9% success rate; 5th in the League
1.28 expected goals FOR; 5th in the League
The Blue Jackets' penalty kill has started off at a better rate of production than last year – allowing one fewer unblocked shot per 60 minutes of play and a little less than 0.3 expected goals fewer against – so opponents’ volume and shot quality is down. Meanwhile, those power kill tendencies remain in tact – Columbus is ninth in the League in shots for while short handed and fifth in shot quality for. If you’re a team struggling to score, the ability to generate looks even when a man down is huge (all while preventing your opponent from scoring).
WANTED: Team Offense
Offensive production down to 1.77 expected goals per 60
The goal (no pun intended) this season was to up the offensive production with the addition of Max Domi, an overall healthier roster, and a freer overall team structure. Well…last year, the Blue Jackets ranked 28th in the League in overall offensive quality (2.22 expected goals per 60), this season they are 27th (Dallas has yet to play) with 1.77 expected goals per 60. So the team’s overall ranking hasn’t changed relative to the league and their totals are down as well.
WANTED: Goals from Goal Scorers
Forwards without a goal: 6 (4 in top 6)
Forwards without a point: 4 (2 in top 6)
You don’t need to belabor this one. Forwards that don’t have a goal include: Cam Atkinson, Max Domi, Mikhail Grigorenko, and Emil Bemstrom. Neither Atkinson nor Bemstrom have a single point. Add on top of that that Seth Jones and Zach Werenski are also still not on the scoresheet and there’s reason for concern. One small glimmer of hope? Jones is tied with Oliver Bjorkstrand for the individual unblocked shot attempt lead (15) and Werenski is right behind with 14.
Come back in the Building, Elvis
Difference from expected save percentage (unblocked shots): -5.29
As with all these points, it’s very early in the season, but only five goaltenders thus far have struggled more than Merzlikins in terms of matching up against the save percentage expected of them. And while he noticeably struggled in the win column early last year as well, he was actually facing tougher shots against than he is now. We know Merzlikins has it in him to be exceptional – he just needs to find that rhythm and get back into the game to help his team as a difference maker.
All data via Evolving-Hockey.com and represents five-on-five play unless otherwise stated.