Home ice advantage for an NHL team is supposed to be just that, an advantage. For the Columbus Blue Jackets, home ice has been anything but an advantage. In fact, home ice has been a major disadvantage for the Blue Jackets. This disturbing trend has continued on for an extended time.
Among the things home ice does for you, it gives you the last change to help with matchups. It also allows you a small leg up in face-offs, by allowing you to put your stick down last on draws in certain situations. Most every NHL team enjoys a certain level of success at home. The Blue Jackets are an exception. Dating back the last couple of seasons, they have lost more games at home than on the road. For a team that many thought could go on a run as a dark horse in the Eastern Conference, these are stunning results.
In their last 60 games at Nationwide Arena, the Columbus Blue Jackets are 26-29-5. They’ve won just four times this season there in 13 games. Their four wins are tied for the fewest home wins in the NHL with San Jose and Colorado. At the same time, the Blue Jackets are 31-26-3 in their last 60 road games.
Why is this happening? That is the $64,000 question. A look at the numbers suggests some disturbing trends contributing to this mess. We will share those numbers with you. Then we will focus on how this can be fixed. Unfortunately, that fix isn’t easy. It may not happen in its entirety until the off-season.
Disturbing Numbers & Trends
Let’s look at this season. The Blue Jackets own a 4-7-2 record at Nationwide Arena. Some questions should arise right away. How are they starting and finishing games? How’s their possession looking in different situations. What about special teams? These answers give us some valuable insight about what is ailing this team.
Lets start at the beginning. How are the Blue Jackets starting out in games? In 13 games, the Blue Jackets have scored first just five times. In those five games, they’ve won just once. Once! They are 1-3-1 in those five games. That is an eye-opening stat. When they do score first, they can’t hold on to the lead.
Now, in the other eight games where they’ve allowed the first goal, the Blue Jackets are 3-4-1. They’ve been able to come back to win at a higher success rate giving up the first goal than scoring the first goal. That says that the team plays its most desperate hockey when they are trailing. Yes, that is a natural reaction to losing. But where is that same desperation when you’re winning?
Need proof of this? Glad you asked. According to War-On-Ice, the Blue Jackets possession numbers at home this season confirm the above. at 5-on-5 when the score is tied, the Blue Jackets have a goal differential of -6 in 13 games. When the game is close, the other team is taking advantage of them.
When the Blue Jackets lead by a goal at 5-on-5, they have a goal differential of -3. Even more disturbing than that, is their Corsi-For %. Their CF% is just 42.5% when up a goal at home. The other team is pressing, and the Blue Jackets don’t have an answer for that. So that need for a number one defenseman. Yeah, this team desperately needs one.
When up by two goals, the Blue Jackets CF% drops down to just 24% at 5-on-5! Small sample size here as they’ve had a two-goal lead in just five of the 13 games, but that’s cruise control for you. They get comfortable with themselves. There’s no killer instinct there to put teams away. Four times this season, against the Rangers, Maple Leafs, Canucks, and Sharks, the Blue Jackets were either tied or had a lead in the third period. They lost all four of those games in regulation. Stunning.
But when the Blue Jackets are behind, their CF numbers are dramatically different. Call it score effects. Call it desperation. Call it whatever you want. But when Columbus trails by one goal, their CF% is 58.1%. Can they play the entire game as though they are trailing by one?
Some other interesting numbers to note here. The Blue Jackets penalty kill at home is over 89% this season, which is third in the NHL. The damage is done at 5-on-5. Even with newly-acquired Brandon Saad on the team, this team still mightily struggles at 5-on-5. Until this is fixed, the Blue Jackets will continue to be stuck in neutral. The team has a -10 goal differential in all score-adjusted scoring situations. Their CF% is 46.8%. This spells disaster.
In addition, their power-play rescued them last season, finished well over 20% at home. This season, they have just eight goals in 49 chances, a lowly 16.3% conversation rate. That drop in production combined with continued 5-on-5 struggles equates to lots of frustration.
Can This Be Fixed?
Now that we see the numbers, we turn to trying to fix things. Is there an easy fix for this? Unfortunately, there really isn’t, not given who is on the team. The power play can certainly improve. This was a strong spot last season. They can be dynamic here. That’s a start.
But 5-on-5 play has many different factors. This included goalies making saves, defense not only limiting the opposition, but helping transition to offense, and forwards tilting the ice into their favor.
Sergei Bobrovsky is a game changer. He can turn games to the Blue Jackets favor when he is in. His absence is a gigantic one. The defense has been better of late, but mostly due to Bobrovsky. Without him, you see the struggles they are having. Teams feast off of them now.
Fixing this situation is going to take time, and making hard roster decisions. This is a young team. There are growing pains. They’ll shows flashes of good play, but then show times of struggle. As they gain experience, this will eventually work itself out.
In regards to the roster, there are both nice pieces and glaring holes. As stated above, this team needs a shutdown defender. Jack Johnson and David Savard are good players, but I wouldn’t call them “shutdown” defenders at this point.
At forward, there’s an overabundance of left wingers, and a need for right wingers. Players have been shuffled up and down the lineup all season trying to fill in spots. There is a need for a more balanced and consistent lineup. The projected top two lines in Saturday’s game against the Islanders are natural left wingers, Saad and Nick Foligno. Their best right-winger, Cam Atkinson, is on the third line.
When you’re last in the NHL and things are not working out, one would expect some sort of moves to be made at some point. Whether it’s at the deadline, or in the off-season, adjustments need to happen. Unfortunately, it doesn’t help in the here and now.
If the Blue Jackets want to turn this thing around now, they have to do it from within, with the players that are here. They must start making life miserable for visitors to Nationwide Arena. Otherwise, this season is over, in December. The team must defend Nationwide Arena if they want to make a second-half run. Their recipe for home cooking needs changed, now. Their season depends on it.