A slow start can breed one hell of a comeback – Ohio State fans certainly saw that on Saturday – but it’s been a troubling pattern so far for the Blue Jackets.
Even in last week’s blowout win over Buffalo, the Jackets started off slow. Oliver Bjorkstrand got the Jackets on the board with a power play goal, but were out-shot 14-9 in the game’s opening frame. That period was the impetus for head coach John Tortorella’s line-juggling that turned a close game into a blowout.
"If Bob didn’t play the way he played in the first period, it could’ve been reversed a little bit,” Tortorella told reporters after the game. "In the first period, we did nothing right and nothing with a workman-type attitude."
Bobrovsky’s stellar outing kept the Sabres off the board in the first period and allowed the Blue Jackets to tinker with their game, find a rhythm and heat up. But Bobrovsky’s not going to play every night – and he’s not going to be vintage Bob every night, either – so a good start is key.
It’s alarming, then, that the Jackets have only led after the first period in three of 11 games so far. They’ve been tied in three of those games, and trailing in five – or nearly half – of those games. The most recent of those five was Saturday night in St. Louis. Captain Nick Foligno discussed the slow starts in the aftermath.
“It’s concerning in the sense that we have to understand who we are, and get to that a little bit faster here,” Foligno said. “I understand that we’re a young team, but there’s a lot of pieces in here that can pull us along.”
It’s certainly a daunting task – having to mount a comeback in the game’s last 40 minutes – and one that the Jackets have become all too familiar with this season. Sure, they’ve successfully pulled it off twice, including Friday night versus Winnipeg, but having to do it in nearly half of their games isn’t a sustainable method of success.
Last season, that number was far lower, and more manageable. The Jackets posted a paltry 5-12-2 record in games where they hit the first intermission trailing. That seems (and is) not ideal on the surface, but that’s also less than a fourth of the team’s games. A faster start – or even an average one – put the team in a far better position.
Last year’s team had an expectedly good 28-8-1 record when leading after the first period. They also had an unexpectedly great 17-4-5 record when heading to the first intermission tied. This year, those marks are 3-0-0 and 2-1-0, respectively.
So, are the first period woes of this season a fluke, or a trend to be worried about? If you’re an “eye test” person, the quotes by Tortorella and Foligno may (and should) carry a lot of weight. The stats (and small sample size) are less worrisome. Blue Jackets opponents have posted 117 shots in the first period this year, while the Jackets have posted 115 – a negligible difference.
Regardless, the Jackets have identified the first period as an area that needs attention. The numbers certainly show that the Jackets have been far more likely to win if they have the lead after one. The numbers can’t quantify how thrilling a comeback is, of course, but those count the same in the standings.