Right Wing Conspiracy is a weekly column about hockey, with the odd hockey-related conspiracy theory thrown in for good measure.
Breaking Down the Blue Jackets
“If you were plowing a field, which would you rather use: two strong oxen or 1,024 chickens?” –Seymour Cray
This isn’t the first time I’ve used that quote in regards to the Columbus Blue Jackets, and I dredge it up again today because it’s apropos. In trading away their two strong oxen (Rick Nash and Jeff Carter) last year, the Jackets committed to at least one season with 1,024 chickens on the bench. Goal scoring would be by committee and everyone would play defense. Just past the halfway point of the season, how’s that working out? Let’s compare Columbus’ team stats this season to the 2011-12 campaign:
Goals per Game – 2013: 2.23 (28th in the NHL) 2012: 2.42 (26th). As expected, the Blue Jackets are scoring less without Nash and Carter. Somewhat surprising is that they’re only scoring 0.19 fewer G/gm. Over an 82-game season, that’s a difference of just 15.58 goals. The chickens have stepped up: in Columbus’ seven non-shootout wins, five different players have scored the game-winning goal (Prospal and Anisimov have two apiece).
Goals Against/Game – 2013: 2.73 (14th) 2012: 3.13 (28th). In short, the play of offseason acquisition Sergei Bobrovsky has exceeded expectations. In 17 games played, Bobs’ save pct. (.919) and GAA (2.27) are career bests, and he posted his first career shutout last week, a 3-0 win over the division-rival Detroit Red Wings. The ex-Flyer was named the NHL’s First Star of the Week for 4-10 March. Backup Steve Mason has also improved somewhat over last season, with his save pct. ticking upward slightly (to .897 from .894) and GAA dropping accordingly (to 3.08 from 3.39).
Power Play – 2013: 13.2% (29th) 2012: 15.5% (24th). The drop-off in power play efficiency can be attributed to the lack of a pure sniper on the team combined with long-term injuries to key players, such as power play quarterback James Wisniewski and forward Brandon Dubinsky. Centerman Artem Anisimov has also missed significant time. Veteran Vinny Prospal has stepped into the void, scoring 4 of the team’s 14 PPG.
Penalty Kill – 2013: 85.7% (5th) 2012: 76.6% (30th). Perhaps the most surprising stat of all, the Blue Jackets’ PK has improved dramatically since last season. The change is even more surprising given PK specialist Dubinsky’s absence. Plain and simple, this is a tribute to team work ethic.
Win % when trailing 1st – 2013: .375 (T-11th) 2012: .143 (30th). This stat is a measure of the ability of a team to come from behind and win. In 2011-12, the Jackets were dead last in the NHL. This season, without any players who could reasonably be considered “clutch” or “go-to guys,” Columbus is just outside the top third of the league in come-from-behind ability. This is another tribute to improved team work ethic, as well as an indicator of a dramatic attitude shift in the club. The 2013 Blue Jackets don’t quit.
Win % when leading after 2 periods – 2013: 1.000 (T-1st) 2012: .742 (26th). Last season, Columbus struggled to hold onto 3rd period leads. In 2013, they’re locking it down. So far this season, if the Blue Jackets lead at the end of the 2nd period, they win the game.
One-goal Games – 2013: 7-6-4 2012: 11-13-7. A remarkable 65% of Columbus’ games so far this season have been decided by one goal, and they’re earning at least a point in 65% of those games. Put another way, the Jackets are collecting 53% of all possible points they could’ve earned from those one-goal games, compared to 47% last year. In short, the 2013 Blue Jackets are more competitive than the 2012 model.
Summary: The 2013 Columbus Blue Jackets are a team of 1,024 chickens. Despite injuries to approximately 768 of those chickens (only five Jackets have suited up for every game this season), the flock just keeps on plowing the field. Currently, they’re riding a five game win streak and are 6-2-2 in their last ten. Because they stumbled out of the gate, however, Columbus sits in 13th place in the Western Conference. In order to make the playoffs, the Blue Jackets would probably need to go 15-6-1 the rest of the way. While it’s certainly possible, it’s not realistic to expect this talent-thin and injury-depleted club to continue to perform at such a high level. Columbus will lose more games this season…but they’ll be competitive in all of them. As new President of Hockey Operations John Davidson said, this team is going north. Columbus fans, enjoy the ride: your team is fun to watch again, and next season’s move to the Eastern Conference is going to be fantastic.