While The Columbus Blue Jackets Have Clearly Struggled To Defend, The Goaltending Battery Has Been Unable To Make Key Saves

By Dan Dukart on October 27, 2022 at 1:45 pm
 Daniil Tarasov plays the puck for the Columbus Blue Jackets
James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The Columbus Blue Jackets have a laundry list of problems.

The defensive play has been inconsistent at best, atrocious at worst. Despite more weapons than ever before, the power play has started slow and, if anything, has been a momentum boost for the opposition. And with Elvis Merzlikins losing the starting crease in the first month of the season to an unproven backup who got torched by the lowly Arizona Coyotes, it's safe to say that goaltending is also a major issue.

To be clear, this is a chicken and egg dilemma. Is the goaltending bad because the defense is bad? Is the defense getting let down by lackluster goaltending? The reality is probably somewhere in the middle. But through eight games, let's just call a spade a spade. The club has allowed 33 goals, tied for last in the NHL. Per NaturalStatTrick, their team 5v5 save percentage of 87.62% is 29th in the league.

The publicly available analytics don't look any better. Per hockey-reference, the Blue Jackets' goaltending duo have both given up more goals than expected. Merzlikins has given up an additional 5.54 goals above average netminding, 59th of 60 qualifying goalies. Daniil Tarasov is 44th, having given up 2.11 additional goals over expectation. Per HockeyViz, the club has given up 32 goals (one empty net), whereas the expectation is 24.5 goals.

Hockey Viz

Put another way, HockeyViz thinks the Blue Jackets are owed, on average, an extra goal saved each game.

I think that sums it up nicely. The Blue Jackets haven't gotten the timely save. When the defense breaks down - which is often - the last line of defense hasn't been there to pick them up. It's a tough ask, no doubt, but it's the expectation at this level.

I went back and rewatched every goal the club has allowed through eight games (I should get hazard pay for this endeavor). Many of them are 'could go either way' goals where you'd like to see a save but a defensive breakdown really caused a quality scoring chance. But here is a sampling of five goals that just straight up should not go in against NHL goalies.

Being soft against the post. Unable to track a puck from the wall. Getting beat over your shoulder by (*checks notes*) noted sniper Josh Archibald. Being unable to square up to a no-traffic one-timer from the point. And again being beaten from the wall.

These aren't goals that the Blue Jackets' defense could have played better. 

The season is young, Tarasov needs experience, small sample size... insert common refrain here. The truth is the club is in for a long season if they are getting well-below-league-average goaltending.

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