Blue Jackets Trending in Wrong Direction During First Quarter

The Columbus Blue Jackets will play their 20th game of the season on Black Friday night against the New York Islanders. Upon completion of that game, 25% of the season will be gone.

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It’s time to check in on the Blue Jackets’ progress as compared to last season. With the signing of Johnny Gaudreau coupled with young players ready to take the next step in their development, there was some thought an exciting season was forthcoming.

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However thanks in large part to injuries and ineffectiveness in several spots in the lineup, the Blue Jackets find themselves in 29th place in the overall NHL standings with a real chance to be a factor in the draft lottery. Their 7-11-1 record is worse off than their 12-7-0 start from last season.

But it gets worse. Today we are going to take a high-level look at the offense, defense and goaltending the Blue Jackets have had so far in 2022-23. This is just from a pure statistical standpoint. It will paint a picture of why the team is in 29th place.

Defense & Goaltending Has Not Improved

If the Blue Jackets were going to be a team competing for a wildcard spot, their goaltending had to step up. Instead, the team is still looking for someone to consistently play well.

One look at the numbers from Elvis Merzlikins, Joonas Korpisalo and Daniil Tarasov shows just how poor the results have been overall.

  • Merzlikins in 2021-22: 3.22 goals-against and .907 save percentage.
  • Merzlikins in 2022-23: 4.74 goals-against and .864 save percentage.
  • Korpisalo in 2021-22: 4.15 goals-against and .877 save percentage.
  • Korpisalo in 2022-23: 3.85 goals-against and .901 save percentage.
  • Tarasov in 2021-22: 2.40 goals-against and .937 save percentage in small sample.
  • Tarasov in 2022-23: 3.46 goals-against and .906 save percentage.
Brad Larsen and Pascal Vincent, Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets have allowed the most goals per game in the NHL at the quarter pole in 2022-23. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

As a result, the Blue Jackets have allowed a league-worst 4.26 goals per game. Compare that to 3.66 goals against per game last season and they’ve given up an extra 0.6 goals per game during the first quarter of 2022-23.

From an xG perspective, all three goalies have allowed more than what’s expected. This is at 5-on-5 per Nat Stat Trick.

  • Merzlikins: 29 goals against in 15.87 xG against.
  • Korpisalo: 20 goals against in 16.99 xG against.
  • Tarasov: 13 goals against in 11.84 xG against.

The eye test and the numbers both confirm that Korpisalo is off to a better start this season and Tarasov is playing as well as can be asked for. The numbers do not look good for Merzlikins so far.

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The Blue Jackets were in 12th place in the overall standings at Thanksgiving in 2021 while allowing just 3.10 goals per game. In this light, they’ve allowed over a goal per game more this first quarter as compared to last.

The defense and goaltending was the big question coming in. So far the worries have been justified. Key injuries, inexperience and underperformance have all factored into this.

With Zach Werenski done for the season, the pairs have shifted. The inexperience factor is a big one. While they are expected to improve over the course of the season, you can expect the team to have some incredibly long nights ahead as they go through the growing pains of the NHL.

The Blue Jackets said their focus was to limit goals against. That hasn’t happened yet and there are no signs of this trend reversing in the near future. The thing that helped them last season was a more potent offense. But has that trend continued?

Offense Cooled Off

The Blue Jackets finished the 2021-22 season scoring 3.20 goals per game. Their ability to score kept them in a lot of games. During the first quarter of last season, they scored 3.53 goals per game.

The thought was adding Gaudreau would only maintain or improve those numbers. That hasn’t been the case so far. The Blue Jackets have scored 2.95 goals per game in their first 19 games of this season. When your “fourth line” is the one Brad Larsen trusts the most along with their top line, problems will arise.

Johnny Gaudreau Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets’ offense has scored less in the first quarter than at all points last season. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)

Again the injuries certainly are a huge factor here that cannot be ignored. However the other issues the Blue Jackets are facing with inexperience and inconsistency have hampered their efforts. Cole Sillinger skated as their fourth line center in the morning skate on Friday. With just two goals in 19 games, he’s one example of their inconsistency issues.

How to View Rest of Season

The Blue Jackets need to see tangible progress especially from a development perspective. That’s why these games are important for several players. They have to decide which players will comprise of their core moving forward.

When we revisit this after second quarter, a good result is improvement in all areas, even if it’s small. The Blue Jackets will not be at full health at any point during second quarter. While some players will start to return, they will be far from 100%.

The Blue Jackets need young players to take a hold of the opportunity being presented to them. They won’t have a better chance to make their case to play. In some cases, they might never see this kind of chance again.

Get to three goals per game. See improvement in the goals against department. See more consistent goaltending. Start there and then build. That’s what the Blue Jackets need to focus on during these next 20 games.

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The Blue Jackets aren’t going to get good overnight. But if they can embrace where they are at and show tangible progress, you really can’t ask for much more given their overall situation.

The Blue Jackets without question trended in the wrong direction in all facets of their game during this first quarter. However they can still make something of this season with three quarters of improvement.

They say the cream will rise to the top. That process has started for these Blue Jackets. By the start of 2023, we might get an early glimpse of who is making a strong impression with their opportunity. Those players could get a leg up when it’s time to make important decisions.

The players dictate it. Now it’s time to see who wants it the most.

Side Dishes

  • Larsen spoke about both Liam Foudy and Emil Bemstrom on Friday morning. Larsen acknowledged that he thinks each player has more to give. Foudy is a healthy scratch Friday while Bemstrom was assigned to the Monsters on Thursday.
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  • On Foudy, “I just need more from him. That’s really what it comes down to. We know he can skate. He’s got great legs but you know, it’s more than just skating. You gotta impact the game in a lot of different ways. He missed a lot of hockey last year. I do think there is some catch up. I watched Nyquist miss a whole year of hockey and when he came back, it took a while. It wasn’t from a lack of work. It’s just timing. It’s those elements in the game within the game that he has to get better at.”
  • On Bemstrom: “There’s more to his game. And it’s not just by points…he had lots of opportunity playing with some really good players on our team and first power play unit. There’s both sides of it in how he has to play. Just not enough and not enough with the puck and away from the pucks and details. So that’s the decision we came to.”

Related: Blue Jackets’ Bemstrom Needs to Take Advantage of Opportunity

  • Stay tuned to see if the Blue Jackets will play the Predators on Saturday night. The Predators’ game against the Avalanche Friday was postponed due to a major water main break that flooded part of Bridgestone Arena. As of this writing, the game is on. But the NHL said they would announce later if the game will be played.