Blue Jackets Second Quarter Assessment

Earlier in the season, I provided a first quarter assessment of the Columbus Blue Jackets. That was a quite easy task as the Blue Jackets stormed out of the gate to a franchise best 14-6-0 record.

But ever since the Jackets’ historic start, they have gone 6-11-3 through the next 20 games and have fallen to 13th in the Western Conference

I tried to be optimistic that a repeat of last season’s debacle under former head coach Ken Hitchock wouldn’t happen again, but I’m sad to report that while not a free-fall to that level, the Blue Jackets have once again struggled into the halfway point of their regular season under current head coach Scott Arniel.

In a manner similar to last quarter’s assessment, I offer my insights both for the season, to date, as well as how the Blue Jackets have fared during their most recent 20 games of the season (Games 21-40). And while their overall mark is better than at this time last season, the ghosts of late-November’s, December’s and early January’s have resurfaced once again.

The Record:  20-17-3
Record during the first quarter: 14-6-0
Record during the second quarter: 6-11-3

Now, to compare this to last season:

Their record:  15-18-7.
Their record during the first quarter: 12-6-2
Their record during the second quarter: 3-12-5

While this year’s record isn’t terrible, the groans and skepticism have begun to creep into their fans collective minds. And by now, the landmark accomplishments of the first 20 games have become but a distant memory, replaced by all-too-familiar patterns of ineptitude:

– Since opening the season with an 8-1-0 road mark, the Blue Jackets have since gone 1-7-2 in road contests. And with six of their next nine games on the road, in arena’s that have not been too kind to them, there is good reason for panic and doubt to set in.

– After posting a 3-1 record against Central Division rivals during the first quarter of the season, the Blue Jackets have gone 0-5-1 against their Central Division foes.

Most disturbing in their recent troubles is their inability to compete with teams of a specific skill set: Primarily speed, finesse and puck possession teams. Teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins, Detroit Red Wings, Buffalo Sabres and Chicago Blackhawks have not only beaten the Blue Jackets, but they have pounded them by a combined score of 30-9 over six games. Edmonton — although a young team who’s struggling this season — also blistered the Blue Jackets, 7-3 and they also are a team which can primarily go up-tempo.

To their credit, the Blue Jackets continue to be one of the league’s top teams when scoring the game’s first goal (14-3) and they have continued to show a penchant for fragility when their opposition scores the game’s first goal, with a 6-14-3 overall mark and a 3-9-3 mark since the first 20 games of the season. They also have continued to post stellar records when leading after the first and second periods of play. So, once they get into a lead, they can certainly hold it with the best of the NHL.

But great teams are borne from heart and an ability to come back from such adversity and this re-appearing doubt is something that until proven otherwise, will continue to plague this team from future success.

As it relates to overall statistics, here are some statistics to reflect how the Blue Jackets, as a team, ranks against the rest of the NHL, at both the halfway point of the season and compared to their ranking during their first 20 games:

Current rankings:

Goals Scored/Game:  2.50 (Tied for 24th)
Goals Against Average:  2.92 (22nd)
Goaltenders Save Percentage:  .904 (18th)
Shutouts Posted:  4 (10th)
Power Play Conversion Percentage:  7.5% (30th)
Penalty Kill Percentage:  80.6% (20th)

Rankings after first 20 games:

Goals Scored/Game:  2.88 (Tied for 12th)
Goals Against Average:  2.23 (3rd)
Goaltenders Save Percentage:  .923 (3rd)
Shutouts Posted:  4 (Tied 2nd)
Power Play Conversion Percentage:  11.4% (27th)
Penalty Kill Percentage:  85.2% (7th)

Now, here are their statistics over their last 20 games played (NHL rankings not provided for that span):

Goals Scored/Game:  2.12
Goals Against Average:  3.61
Goaltenders Save Percentage:  .885
Shutouts Posted:  0
Power Play Conversion Percentage:  3.6%
Penalty Kill Percentage:  76.0%

In short, these statistics spell one word: Awful. But there are other troubling signs that exist:

– The team has recently shown a penchant for not playing for a full 60 minutes. This flaw was often the source of lament by Hitchcock and it appears to have resurfaced under Arniel.

– The defensive unit has struggled mightily and particularly against teams that are adept at stopping their attack through the neutral zone. Not only have the current stay-at-home defensive types struggled to adapt to Scott Arniel’s new system, but even their two offensively-capable defensemen — Kris Russell and Anton Stralman — have struggled, both on the offensive and defensive ends. Russell has scored only two goals with five assists and possesses a plus/minus rating of -5 and Stralman has yet to score a goal and, like Russell, is also a -5 so far on the season.

– While Steve Mason has somewhat exorcised some of Mid-December’s horrific play, he still ranks near the bottom of the NHL’s goaltending statistics.  Additionally, backup Mathieu Garon has also struggled since his phenomenal start, posting a goals against average of 3.18 and a .884 save percentage, quite a far cry from his marks of a 1.33 GAA and a Save% of .950. But, to their credit, the Jackets’ shoddy defensive play has certainly contributed to their troubles in net.

– The performance of their once-dependable first line of forwards has not only plummeted, but two of those first line forwards — Derick Brassard and Jakub Voracek — have been demoted. In fact, as a result of his less than stellar play recently, Voracek was benched for two recent games but has returned to perform much better during his last three contests.

Amidst all of the ‘gloom and doom’ has been Arniel’s admirable ability to do whatever it takes to jumpstart this team and get them back on the right track. Be it benching young, high-salaried or veteran players, even benching the top forward line for inept play in a recent game against the Nashville Predators, Arniel has shown that favoritism doesn’t exist on his team. In doing so, Arniel has won the respect and admiration of fans and the organization alike.  But he can only do so much with what talent currently exists (or doesn’t exist).

While the season is not lost by any means, the time for recapturing what worked so well in the early part of the season needs to happen, and soon.

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