The Columbus Blue Jackets entered the week of Thanksgiving staring into their busiest stretch of the season, playing five games in seven nights. This was a good test for the young Jackets, showing how they can handle so much hockey in so little time.
The Blue Jackets finished the week 2-1-2, showing that they can handle the workload, while playing well in the process.
In reviewing the game tape of the five games, one massive theme stood out. This team is never out of games. Consider this for a moment. Only once this past week, the last 13:35 of the Calgary game, did the Blue Jackets trail by two goals. They were either ahead, tied, or down by one the rest of the time. Even in the Calgary game, it was 1-0 until almost midway through the third.
In other words, #CBJ has been in basically every game, spending almost 92% of the time trailing by one or better. Massive turnaround.
— Mark Scheig (@markscheig) November 27, 2016
Remember last season how many times you clicked on the change channel button after the Blue Jackets fell down by two, three, or more? This season is a much different story. It’s a major reason the Blue Jackets can complete comebacks in games.
In fact, for the season, the Blue Jackets have spent less than 100 game minutes trailing by two. Specifically, out of 1215:04 game time, Columbus has trailed by two or more for a total of 99:55, or 8.2% of the time. Chances are, the Blue Jackets are winning or are right there.
The question now is, how are they doing this? Is there anything on tape that gives us hints into what’s working for them? The short answer is yes. Let’s break this down for you.
Let’s begin with the obvious. You need strong goaltending to stay in games. Sergei Bobrovsky is back to performing as a workhorse for the Blue Jackets. He started four of the five games this week, allowing the opposition to score two, two, three, and one not counting any shootouts.
The key for Bobrovsky to handle the workload of four starts in a week and three starts in four days is how many shots he has had to stop. There’s marked improvement from the beginning of the season. The Blue Jackets came into the week allowing the fourth most shots in the league. In Bobrovsky’s four starts, they allowed 21 to Washington, 20 to Calgary, 28 to Tampa Bay, and 23 to Florida. Bobrovsky hasn’t had to work as hard thanks to the defense in front of him.
Positive Possession Stats
So what is the defense doing to limit opposition shots? The simple answer is the Blue Jackets have the puck more. When you have the puck more than the opposition, you increase your chances of limiting their shots.
This tweet from Jeremy illustrates a nice trend. Adjusting for score, the Blue Jackets generated more shot attempts than their opponents over the week. It’s a nice recipe for success especially when you need a tying goal. Except for the Tampa game, the Blue Jackets have needed tying goals. In three of those four games, they got the tying goal.
Let’s start with the Washington game. The Blue Jackets entered the third period down 2-1. They wasted no time in the third getting the equalizer.
The Blue Jackets needed a single goal. Thanks to a won faceoff, a won wall battle, and a great play to make Braden Holtby leave a rebound, a tying goal ensued. The Blue Jackets were in position to tie thanks to keeping the score 2-1. Washington only had 13 shots in 40 minutes. Columbus patiently waited for its chance. They got it to tie. They eventually got it to win as well, thanks to a late power play.
So, the formula for Columbus here is play their way, stay patient, and capitalize when opportunity strikes. By staying patient, they make sure to play north-south hockey. There’s very little on tape showing them making east-west plays. Even when a play isn’t available, the Blue Jackets are in a low-risk situation as the puck is safely away from danger.
Let’s look at Colorado. Again, the score is 2-1. This time, there’s seconds left on the clock. All the same principles from above applied in this game. Colorado got two quick goals in the second to take the lead, but got no more. Columbus’ patient approach allowed them the opportunity to send Nationwide Arena into a frenzy on a tying goal. Cam Atkinson did just that was 6.5 on the clock.
Again, all you need is one. Give credit to Columbus for being down just one given that the game wasn’t one of their better performances. They found a way to stay around. Even on the goal, the Blue Jackets stayed patient. They wanted the best possible shot. Atkinson found a hole and let it rip. Nathan MacKinnon got a piece of the shot, but it still found the top corner.
A little fortunate? Perhaps. But again, the Blue Jackets needed one and got the bounce. The power of staying in games cannot be understated. Now let’s look at Brandon Saad’s wicked backhand in Florida. That tied the game at one in the third period.
Same story. Columbus down just 1-0, where one goal ties the time. The Blue Jackets held a 28-16 shots advantage up to that point of the game. They did a fantastic job of limiting Florida’s chances. At no point did the Blue Jackets compromise their defense. They knew they’d get their chance. And how filthy is that backhand by Saad?
One question that hovers over the team is who can rise up and score a big goal when it’s needed? Thus far, the Blue Jackets have several candidates, including Saad, Dubinsky, Nick Foligno, Atkinson, Alexander Wennberg among others.
The Blue Jackets are in every game thanks to strong defense and goaltending. They find themselves in position to get a tying goal thanks to their performance earlier in the game. They have players who can score the big goal. It’s all working for them now.
The Blue Jackets are now 20 games in. We are approaching the point in the season in which what we see is generally what we get. If this is what we get from the Blue Jackets, this season could end up very memorable. At the very least, the Blue Jackets are competitive every night. At the most, they make the playoffs. As of this writing, Columbus has an 88.2% chance of making the playoffs. Who saw that coming preseason?
The Columbus Blue Jackets are a never say die team. That’s as good as it gets.
We’ll see you next week for more Blue Jackets film review, where we will look at three upcoming games, including a rematch with Tampa and a pair of road games in Denver and Glendale.