Blue Jackets Five-Game Checkup: The Third Five

We have reached the 15-game mark for the Columbus Blue Jackets. Game 16 goes Thursday night in Glendale against the Arizona Coyotes. The game is the first of a three-game road trip that will see the Jackets go to Denver Saturday and then Montreal Tuesday before returning home.

Needless to say the last five games for the Blue Jackets have not gone their way. They’ve lost all five with just one coming in overtime against St. Louis. Normally we would look to see if everyone is trending towards goals. Joonas Korpisalo is starting to get more comfortable. Sonny Milano is noticeable. But outside of that in terms of our watch list, the rest is ugly.

So let’s take a different approach this time in our checkup. They have an overall record of 5-7-3 as of this writing. The breakdown of their five-game stretches goes something like this.

  • First five: 2-3-0.
  • Second five: 3-0-2.
  • Third five: 0-4-1.

It’s clear from the record things have gone south in a hurry. If games go a certain way Thursday night, the Blue Jackets could wake up Friday morning in a not so good place: last in the Metropolitian Division.

As it stands now, the Blue Jackets are in seventh place in the eight-team division, just one point clear of the New Jersey Devils. They trail the Washington Capitals by 12 points for first place. That didn’t take very long, did it?

The question we must consider now is how real is this record for the Blue Jackets? You are what your record says you are. But do they really deserve the record they have? Have they played as bad as 5-7-3 indicates?

In order to help answer this question, I’m combining a couple of elements. First, the game film. I went back and watched the last 10 games specifically to watch for trends and takeaways. Then I looked at some numbers thanks to both Nat Stat Trick and MoneyPuck. Weaving these things together reveal an interesting story.

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Takeaways On Tape

First on the game film, the Blue Jackets have played pretty well at even strength. In their last 10 games, I’d say they played at an acceptable level in seven of them while they were bad in the other three. The three games where the opposition held the upper hand to me were Dallas, Edmonton and Philadelphia.

The Blue Jackets defeated the Stars anyway. Korpisalo was the best player on the ice and was named first star for a reason. The other two games were brutal with a capital B. They got what they deserved no question.

But in the other seven games, they’ve been even or the better team. Some of the numbers support this. Per Nat Stat Trick, the Blue Jackets have finished with a higher xGF than their opposition in seven of the 10 games. Per MoneyPuck, they have the Blue Jackets ahead in four and even in another three. For reference, I consider even when two teams are separated by .20 or less in xGF.

If you were to tell me the Blue Jackets were the better five-on-five team seven out of 10 times, I’d take that every time. So that is encouraging. It at least suggests they’ve done enough to win a game. Where issues come in is when other factors do enough to affect the outcome of the game.

That’s where the Blue Jackets have a 10-bell problem. There are events happening on a consistent basis that are ruining the good things they are doing at five-on-five. That’s where the impact of not finishing and brutal special teams put the team in a place where their record is completely deserved. Let’s take a closer look.

Joonas Korpisalo Columbus Blue Jackets
Joonas Korpisalo has started showing signs of playing with more consistency. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Flipping the Script

Defining moments take the game and help shape the final score. The third period in Chicago is a good place to start. The score was 2-1 Blue Jackets. Then Seth Jones took a tripping penalty.

The Blue Jackets could not kill the penalty. Alex DeBrincat scores to tie the game at two. The Blackhawks take that momentum to overtime where they eventually win. Blackhawks 3, Blue Jackets 2. From an xGF standpoint, whether it was MoneyPuck (1.71-1.47) or Nat Stat Trick (2.10-1.54), they each had the Blue Jackets ahead at five-on-five. They didn’t win the game. That goal by DeBrincat flipped the script against the Blue Jackets. That’s defining moment number one.

Let’s go to the game against the New York Islanders. This game was even by eyes and by numbers (MoneyPuck 2.33-2.35 and Nat Stat Trick 2.36-2.18 in all situations.) But then overtime happened. One blown coverage later and the game is over. Islanders 3 Blue Jackets 2. Special teams was not the issue. A game-defining mistake was. It decided a virtually even game. The lost points count is up to two.

Let’s talk about the game in Philadelphia next. That was the worst game from start to finish I’ve seen from them in a long time. All the metrics favored the Flyers. Special teams heavily favored the Flyers to the tune of an 0/5 power play, the Flyers scoring two power-play goals and then one shorthanded goal. That’s how 4-2 becomes 7-4 in less than a period. Notice a theme yet? Here’s the thing. From an xGF standpoint at five-on-five, the Blue Jackets were right there (MoneyPuck 2.27-2.17 and Nat Stat Trick 2.05-1.75 each favoring the Blue Jackets.) Special teams again flipped the game.

Let’s now summarize notable moments from then until now.

  • Edmonton: The Oilers dominated everything and deserved to win.
  • St. Louis: The Blue Jackets were up 3-1 and then special teams did them in again. A power-play goal made it 3-2. A power-play goal made it 4-3 Blues. Another lost point despite being the better team on the night.
  • Calgary: By xGF, it was basically even (3.11-3.24 and 2.85-3.28 in all situations.) The difference? No finish. Lots of shots but nothing of high quality. So xGF in this case is a tad misleading. The Blue Jackets showed they couldn’t get good enough looks to score.
  • Vegas: The Blue Jackets owned the xGF numbers. But again, no finish. This time, a game-winning shorthanded goal decided the outcome. So in this 10-game stretch, two of the shorthanded goals allowed were game winners (Reilly Smith and Kevin Hayes.)
Philadelphia Flyers Kevin Hayes and Brian Elliott
The Philadelphia Flyers dismantled the Blue Jackets from start to finish. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

Conclusions

What can we draw from this? The clear issues are lack of finish and overall special teams. They’ve done enough to flip the game around in a negative fashion. The Blue Jackets are dead last in shooting percentage. In terms of special teams in these last 10 games, their power play is 3/33 for 9.1% and penalty kill is 23/29 for 79.3%. The kill has been better of late but it’s still deciding games against them.

If the Blue Jackets had better metrics on special teams, they’d have a couple more wins under their belt. Instead they have just two regulation wins in their first 15 games.

The five-on-five play has been encouraging. But the rest of their game has dragged them into the mud. All-in-all, their record is reflective of the way they’ve played. But not all hope is lost yet.

The shooting percentage should even itself out. The concern is special teams. The Blue Jackets have two steps to complete here. First, they need to get to a point where special teams isn’t a deciding factor against them in their games. Then once that settles out, they need to convert much more than they are.

Luckily for the Blue Jackets, today is a new day and their next game is a new opportunity. Just win the day. Then build from there. Finishing is correctable. Special teams are correctable. Therefore the season is not lost yet. But if this early trend continues, then it’s panic time.

It’s time for the Blue Jackets to stop making the deadly mistake in a game. If not, we may need to start looking to the future sooner rather than later.