The Columbus Blue Jackets played their first measuring stick game of the 2013-14 season at home, during the day, against the reigning Eastern Conference Champion Boston Bruins, and in a refrain that sounds all too familiar to Blue Jackets fans, the team came close, but not close enough.
The Jackets struck first with a power play goal from Jack Johnson, but the Bruins countered with three unanswered goals enroute to a 3-1 win.
Most would argue that the biggest problem with the Blue Jackets last year was a lack of puck possession, especially in close game situations. This is certainly borne out by Corsi (shots + shots attempted (that miss the net) + shot blocks) and Fenwick (shots + shots attempted, regardless of shot blocks, which are regarded as a defensive skill and thus not a factor in probability) Close (when a team is up or down a goal in the first or second period of a game, or tied in the third period) statistics: the team finished 25th in Corsi, and 26th in Fenwick despite the team’s very near miss of the postseason last year.
Recently this author has argued that the Blue Jackets were in a position to be better, Nathan Horton, among the league’s best at positive puck possession was a great acquisition. By extension, if Boone Jenner can get back to the development he showed in the preseason he should be a major asset in the offensive zone. So far, with Horton out until nearly the new year, and with Jenner making a sharp regression in the face of NHL-only competition, the team still finds itself in the bottom third of possession statistics.
The Jackets were smothered all afternoon against the bigger, badder Bruins. The Jackets’ lone goal came nearly 19 minutes into the first period, on a powerplay, it was the team’s third shot of the game. It only went downhill from there though, as the Jackets would eventually end the game officially outshot 36-27.
Getting outshot in and of itself is not a bad thing. No matter what the advanced statisticians might suggest, certain goal scorers are better at scoring goals, they can do more with fewer offensive opportunities and win games on their own. When that fails to hold up is against teams that are deep, with skill and defensive ability up and down the lineup. So, the Boston Bruins, in other words…
If the Jackets really want to move into the upper echelon of the NHL, they need to beat good teams. In order to do that, they need to control the puck, keeping the puck in the offensive zone isn’t just about scoring goals, it prevents them as well.
How much blame does Jack Johnson deserve?
Although Johnson got the Jackets’ lone goal he also finished the tilt -3, meaning he was on the ice for all three goals against. It’s like this. The Jackets are counting on Johnson to be the leader of the defense, and as THW contributor Matt Souva has already pointed out, that might not be a position he’s fit for. Johnson is a very negative puck possession type player. When he’s on the ice, the puck is more than likely going to stay in the Jackets’ defensive zone. That’s especially bad news against a top flight team like the Bruins, the same would likely hold for the Red Wings, the Penguins, and any other team that has serious aspirations of winning one or several playoff series. And there really is no reason to believe that the Jackets’ can’t do just that.
But we should not single out Jack Johnson, RJ Umberger also finished -3, while Ryan Johansen and Brandon Dubinsky, the team’s top two centermen each finished -2. In other words, the guys who played worst in this high profile match-up are the guys who lead the team on and off the ice. Not exactly conducive to a culture of winning.
It’s easy to say that this is just one game, and it doesn’t really matter, these are true. It’s also true that this is a team that nobody views as more than a novelty. If this team wants to change that perception, close enough doesn’t work.
Andrew is a professional student earning his Masters at WVU. He enjoys craft beer and watching open wheel racing. Find him on Twitter: @andrewroman.