Blue Jackets Must Find Finish, Fast

All things considered, the start of the season for the Columbus Blue Jackets has been pretty good. That is expect for one major thing.

The Blue Jackets cannot finish their chances. This has resulted in losses in five of their first eight games. Their last two games in particular against the Blackhawks and Islanders were painful.

They should have won these games.

Friday night in Chicago, the Blue Jackets held a 2-1 lead in the third period before an ill-timed penalty led to a tying power-play goal from Alex DeBrincat. Then Jonathan Toews ended the game early in overtime. The Blue Jackets were the better team the whole night but left without a win.

Then Saturday night in Columbus, Boone Jenner got his first goal of the season to tie the game at two late in the second period. But just like Friday night, two goals was all they could muster despite being the much better team in the third period. The Islanders ended the game early in overtime. Another opportunity for a win was squandered.

This leaves the Blue Jackets at 3-3-2 going into Monday night’s game in Toronto. While there is plenty of season left to fix their finishing issues, the team needs to fix this fast. Otherwise, they could find themselves near the bottom of the standings early and a long climb ahead of them.

A Frustrating Beginning

What makes this 3-3-2 start frustrating is that the Blue Jackets have played several good minutes most of the season. As coach John Tortorella has said, outside of the final 30 minutes in Pittsburgh, he has been mostly pleased with the minutes played. They are just not getting results on the scoreboard or the standings.

Let’s see if we can put the start in perspective for you. Let’s start with the third period Saturday night. Look at these numbers courtesy of Natural Stat Trick. This is in all situations.

  • High Danger Chances: 6-0 Blue Jackets.
  • Corsi: 30-14 Blue Jackets.
  • Scoring Chances For: 12-1 Blue Jackets.
  • Expected Goals For: 1.04-0.28 Blue Jackets.
  • Goals scored in the third: 0-0.

This was all Blue Jackets. More often than not, they would find themselves on the positive side of the scoreboard. But not on this night. Then all it took was one blown coverage in overtime to lose the game. No early finish led to this result.

Now let’s look at the third period Friday night in Chicago.

  • High Danger Chances: 8-3 Blue Jackets.
  • Expected Goals For: 1.66-0.92 Blue Jackets.
  • Goals scored in the third: 1-1.

Overall, the expected goals were 3.3-2.63 Blue Jackets in all situations. Again, no win was realized. Their lack of finish reared its ugly head again.

John Tortorella Columbus Blue Jackets
Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella has liked most of the minutes this season, but they’re not seeing results. (Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)

Finding a Solution Fast

Here’s some other stats for you to munch on for the Blue Jackets in this early part of the season. These are courtesy of

  • Shots for per game: 34.4 (5th in NHL)
  • Goals per game 2.25 (30th in NHL)
  • Power-play conversion: 13.0% (25th in NHL)
  • Shooting percentage: 6.5% (31st in NHL)

And on an individual player level:

  • There is no player with more than four points in the first eight games.
  • Only one player, Pierre-Luc Dubois, has three goals.
  • Nick Foligno, despite playing noticeably better, has one goal in 21 shots, a shooting percentage of 4.8%. He is a career 11.9% shooter.
  • Gus Nyquist, also playing well, has one goal in 18 shots, a shooting percentage of 5.6%. He is a career 11.2% shooter.
  • Cam Atkinson has just two goals on 36 shots, a shooting percentage of 5.6%. He is a career 11.7% shooter.
  • Boone Jenner has just one goal (which he scored Saturday) on his first 18 shots, a shooting percentage of 5.6%, He is a career 10.1% shooter.

This is most of your core who hasn’t been able to finish at the same time. So if there’s good news, it’s that you should be able to reasonably expect these numbers to normalize to a degree. However, the Blue Jackets need to figure this out sooner rather than later. They don’t have the same margin of error that they had in past seasons.

Columbus Blue Jackets Cam Atkinson
Cam Atkinson is one of several Blue Jackets way off their career shooting percentage to start the season. (Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports)

Artemi Panarin isn’t there to save them. The team has to finish their chances with the guys in this locker room. Can known secondary scorers become primary scorers? Can role players chip in some more scoring, even if it’s just a little bit?

Their next six games could really tell a big story. They have the Maple Leafs Monday, a team who generally doesn’t have trouble scoring. Then they have two huge division games against Carolina and Philadelphia. After that the following week are games against Edmonton, St. Louis and Calgary.

The Blue Jackets have to somehow get to the magic three-goal mark in a game. The underlying numbers suggest it’s close, but they have to push through and make it happen. The problem with not figuring it out soon is that their division will pass them by with no regard.

Finish. That’s all that’s missing, for now.