The NHL is back, and the Columbus Blue Jackets have finally returned to game action after a lengthy layoff following the end of preseason hockey. After only two games it is difficult to make any grand proclamations about the state of the league, but a few numbers managed to stand out for the Blue Jackets as their season started. So let’s dive into these returns and see what has happened in Columbus by the numbers.
2: Number of Games the Blue Jackets Have Played
Or 2.4% of the season. Which means none of what you’ve seen is significant. Zero. I know, it’s something of a buzzkill. Such a tiny sample makes various reactionary articles (or even coach-firings) seem meaningless and lose their venom. But seriously, let’s keep our heads on here: the teams you see now and the standings as they are today have no relation to how the season will close. We haven’t even seen the trade rumors start flying (there are about 148 days until the trade deadline, after all). Enjoy the fact that hockey is back, but don’t lose sleep over two (or for some teams, three) measly games.
With that in mind, let’s look at some numbers that are interesting in the short-term and worth watching as the season continues.
0: Number of NHL Games Played by Boone Jenner & Ryan Murray Before Opening Night
The debut tilt for both Jenner and Murray wasn’t a surprise for hockey fans. After a strong camp and praise from Todd Richards, both rookies took their places in the opening lineup. It’s easy to view the youngsters as beacons of optimism for the present and the team’s future, especially as they continue to grow into NHL players. It was undoubtedly an exciting moment to see years of organizational scouting and individual development meet on the ice in Columbus. Unfortunately, the actual game led to a bit less exuberance, especially in the case of Mr. Jenner…
Less Than 1: Number of Periods the Season-Opening Line Combinations Lasted
In Friday’s pre-game morning skate, Columbus Dispatch Blue Jackets writer/reporter Shawn Mitchell relayed the forward groupings in what seemed a fairly exciting Tweet:
Boll practicing but will not play. Lines: 38-17-10; 11-19-13; 18-24-71; 55-42-14. #CBJ
— Shawn Mitchell (@shecky218) October 4, 2013
The Blue Jackets were ready to show off lines that featured Boone Jenner (number 38) matched with Brandon Dubinsky and Marian Gaborik, and Ryan Johansen (number 19) centering Cam Atkinson and Matt Calvert. The former was an exciting element of preseason games, especially in the team’s victory over Carolina. The latter, while less discussed, was also enticing and seemed to indicate Ryan Johansen escaping the linemates he saw most of last season.
Within a matter of minutes, those combinations were shredded and the team was totally shuffled. Jenner was off on a 4th line duty, only getting 10:27 of time on ice. Johansen was suddenly playing with Umberger and Foligno again, sounding like 2013 all over again. In his post-game comments with the Columbus Dispatch, Richards noted it was a matter of speed that saw Jenner dropped (and which subsequently rearranged the rest of the team) saying, “The speed of the game was overwhelming early” for Jenner.
All this line shuffling is disconcerting in a near-term coaching view, but the panic button needn’t be hit yet. Boone Jenner is only 20, so there’s plenty of room to improve and adjust to the game. Furthermore, while Johansen did see a shift from high-level possession teammates to ones that contributed to a bad 2013, the effort was there initially to push the centerman toward skill. If those trends continue as Jenner grows (and, eventually, Horton returns) the depth and structure of the Blue Jackets will improve.
+25 (or 71.2%): David Savard’s Shot Attempt Differential (or Corsi For %) at 5-on-5
Both of David Savard’s shot attempt differential statistics are the highest on the team, only challenged by Mr. Savard’s defensive partner Nikita Nikitin. Before we start a celebration over this impressive development, a few caveats: Savard hasn’t seen the toughest available opponents (defensemen stuck with Tavares duty versus the Islanders were Johnson/Prout and Murray/Wisniewski), and this is only after two games. But with the time given (primarily defensive zone starts), both Savard and Nikitin have managed to be dominant possession generators.
There’s much more here to consider, of course. It’s unclear if these were two lucky games for Savard and Nikitin, and their past performance doesn’t help us predict their future results yet (Savard has minimal NHL experience, Nikitin has bounced between being great and poor). Additionally, the eventual return of the currently-injured Fedor Tyutin will force one of the six d-men to the bench, thus altering the lineup. But the implications here are exciting. If Savard can emerge as approaching an NHL-caliber defenseman and if Nikitin returns to his 2011-2012 abilities, the Blue Jackets could suddenly have one of the deepest bluelines in the NHL.