Cannonball: 12-5-4, Proving ’em wrong

Where we stand

Five games away from having completed the first 26 games (we have been doing it in blocks of 13 here at the Rant), 12-5-4 (28 points) and tied for third in the Metro is not something that was really predicted anywhere (cough, cough, cough, cough). It has been a lot of fun so far and I think we can keep it rolling…….

Back 2 Back

CBJ play a league-high 19 back to back games (tied with Sabres) and to date have played six of them. Our record is 7-2-3 scoring 17 points in 12 total games played. We are 1 for 6 currently in winning both games in a B2B.

With the exception of the Calgary loss, in the month of November the CBJ win when there is a day between games. If this trend continues into December than we have a good shot of starting the last month of the year 4-0-0. Downside is the fifth game is a B2B, and is against a divisional opponent in the Islanders.

May the Blue Jackets continue to be the holiday gift that keeps on giving…..

Points Leaders

We have 8 players with double digit point totals after 21 played. They are:

20 Cam Atkinson – 8-12-20

20 Alexander Wennberg – 5-15-20

19 Nick Foligno – 8-11-19

17 Brandon Saad – 6-11-17

16 Zach Werenski – 5-11-16

13 Sam Gagner – 8-5-13

13 Scott Hartnell – 5-8-13

10 Josh Anderson – 7-3-10

Only two of our regular players (with more than 10 GP) have a negative +/- in Dubinsky (-2) and Jenner (-6). Neither have played very well, but they also have not played all that poorly either. There is a question as to whether these two will be able to adapt to our new style of play, but I think it is way to early to make any type of call and Dubinsky specifically continues to contribute in the faceoff circle.

Short Look Ahead

Our next five games feature two home and three away games. All of the teams we face are currently in the bottom two of their divisions. The first four all have at least a day between each game, only the fifth game against the Islanders is a back to back.

We have played very tough against some of the stiffest competition in the league and seemed to wilt a bit against the lesser teams (based on standings). I look for this stretch to snap that trend. I think we can take all five of these games, with the only coin toss being the Islanders on the second leg of the 12/9-12/10 B2B.

I cannot not understate how fun this season has been thus far. Let’s Go Jackets. Keep it rolling!!!!

Cannonball: Pundits await the fall…..

Outside of Pierre LeBrun and Scott Burnside giving the CBJ some love, the rest of the hockey media seems to simply be on watch for the Jackets to plunge back into the depths of the Metropolitan standings. “Possession statistics! Possession statistics!” Seems to be the war cry of those that seem in disbelief that that we have made it to 10-4-2 and snarkily (Wyshynski’s “awfully good” headline) comment on how this cannot last.

Hey, stats don’t lie. Our possession statistics (Corsi, Fenwick, PDO) are all not great. Do you know what has been though? Our record against a schedule that boasts wins against:

Montreal Canadiens (Currently best record in NHL)

New York Rangers (Currently top of the Metro Division)

Washington Capitals – beat twice (3rd in Metro)

Chicago Blackhawks (Top of Central)

St Louis Blues – Split series, OTL in St Louis (2nd in Central)

Anaheim Duck  (Top of Pacific)

Yes, our possession statistics have been bad, but given our early season schedule, shouldn’t they have been?!? Other than Dallas (who we beat twice), we have not played any of the bottom three teams in any of the divisions. Yes, some of these match-ups were against backup goaltenders, but it doesn’t change the amount of talent these teams had in their lines.

Meanwhile, Montreal has 14 wins – 10 of which are in the bottom three of their division currently (we also beat a Price-less Habs team into the ground 10-0 as you will remember).

Will our power play remain above 30%? Probably not, but against lesser competition it probably doesn’t have to. Maybe it is more amazing that it is above 30% given the gauntlet we have run in the first 16 games?

While Wyshynski moved us from 30th to 15th in his power rankings (from 10/21 – 11/17), as a part of the rankings on 10/21 Mr. Wyshynski said this:

” At the bottom of our power rankings are the Columbus Blue Jackets who continue to be a disastrous mix of poor coaching and poor construction.”

10-4-1 against the teams you have ranked at the top their boss. Possession stats be damned, we have been playing those currently occupying the top of each division, and we keep winning. And, we will get better…….

Let’s Go Jackets. Beat the Avs.

Cannonball: Corsi Be Damned

Tortorella hates corsi. Everyone has reported on it because if our record was reflective of our corsi average, it would look a lot more like last year’s record. Today, Down Goes Brown (on THN.com), lists us as a confusing team that is punching above its weight, but will come crashing to earth soon enough. I disagree. No, I strenuously disagree.

The NHL season is a long winding road, where to find success some things have to bounce your way. You can’t have key personnel constantly injured, you have to find a way to get a point on nights where it just isn’t going your way, and your players have to somewhat ham & egg it through the season to keep the wins coming. We are ham and egging it right now and winning games in the part of the schedule where we weren’t supposed to. That’s why this is so exciting. Boone Jenner, Scott Hartnell and Brandon Dubinsky have been mostly invisible. Ryan Murray has been really inconsistent. Saad was preordained as our goal leader, but has not taken up that mantle as of yet. BUT, Wennberg is tied for 2nd in the entire NHL with 13 assists, Foligno not far behind with 10 assists. Anderson and Gagner have both been big contributors (Anderson is 5th in the NHL with a 26.3% shooting average) and  Zach Werenski has been as advertised (not typical for us CBJ faithful). Prior to his injury Seth Jones was making it known that he belonged on that top pairing.

When Seth Jones got hurt, I thought we might be in for a rough stretch as he has been an integral part of our early success. It hasn’t been the case thus far. We definitely miss him, and are a better team with him, but we have still managed to find a way to continue to pick up points.

Our special teams continue to be special (Atkinson is tied 6th in the NHL with 4 power play goals), although our power play has diminished over the last few contests, and we still have yet to give up (or get for that matter) a short-handed goal to our opponents. The kill has been especially noteworthy and for the first time that I can remember as a fan, it doesn’t feel like taking a penalty is automatically giving up a goal or when we don’t give up a goal on the kill that there should be some type of special in arena giveaway.

Look, it doesn’t hurt that teams have been starting their reserve goalies when facing us. It doesn’t hurt that teams we have played have had key injuries when we faced them (hello, upcoming Steven Stamkos-less games), but we have beaten quality teams both home and away and won the first of many upcoming tough divisional games in what might be the toughest division in the NHL.

Next week will be telling with five games in a seven day span, and hopefully then others will begin to see that this team has the ability to be better than they are now – but continue to find ways to win.

Last time I checked they don’t determine the playoffs by corsi score, and everything I have ever read about corsi points to it not even being relevant until the home stretch of the season (even then, mostly as a signal that a team is getting hot at the right time). Early season, just win baby. The Jackets are doing just that and will continue to get better along the way.

Let’s Go Jackets. See you in the playoffs.

 

Prediction Time: the next thirteen. 

How we did in the first thirteen:

We predicted 8-4-1 and the team sits at 7-4-2. We are pretty pleased with ourselves. Please do not look at the game by game predictions too closely as it greatly diminishes how smart we look. Do however check out the Montreal prediction where we surmised that they would rest Carey Price against us and pay the price for it. 10-0 was way better than we could have ever expected.

Defending NWA. The Jackets are currently 5-2 at home (two wins in OT) and we now wade into divisional play. Let’s make some predictions.

The Next Thirteen:

Not to sound repetitious, but we say 8-4-1 again with losses coming in these games:

Tampa Bay x2

@Washington

New York Rangers

While I don’t like the idea of dropping two in division games, Washington may be the best team in the NHL and New York is putting the puck on net by the bucket.

I am telling you. We are making the playoffs.

Predicted record after 26 games: 15-8-3 (33 points)

Cannonball Extra: The ESPN Power Rankings

Top Ten

In a surprise, at least to me, ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun has ranked the CBJ 9th in this week’s power rankings. Based on the short blurb for our team, it appears the ranking was mostly based on our weekend drubbing of Montreal and pity that our fan base deserves a playoff team. Either way, I will take it. Honestly, I will take any national exposure that our team can get! Before we get too excited over this, it may be important to note that the teams ranked 1, 2, and 3 are all Metropolitan Division teams (Rangers, Caps, Penguins). The Metro is loaded again this year, and we are about to enter divisional play. It will be interesting to see where we land in the power rankings in the coming weeks. Nine is best we’ve been in quite awhile, so I thought it was worth noting.

Cannonball: Jones Out & the Captain leads the way

Damn it Jonesy

Arguably our best overall defender, Seth Jones, is officially on IR for at least the next three weeks with a hairline fracture in his foot. Jones has led the team in ice time with an average of 24:14 per game. His presence is going to be missed dearly. Statistically he has been more than solid. With three goals and three assists, all at even strength though he had a game winning goal in OT, he is currently tied for seventh on the team in total points (6) with Josh Anderson. He is also tied for first, with Jack Johnson, in blocked shots at 21 and is sixth on the team in hits (14). With Jones out, it most likely means that Dalton Prout draws in on the last pairing and Murray gets pushed up to the top pair with Werenski.

I’m the Captain Now

Through the first ten games of last year’s dreadful season Nick Foligno had one goal, four assists, and a +/- of -9. Compare that to this year where Captain Foligno has four goals, eight assists, and a +/- of +4. Not only is he currently tied as the points leader for the Jackets (tied with Wennberg, 12 points), but he also has finally embraced the role of Captain by leading by example on the ice. On two separate occasions where the team could not seem to get the motor running, Foligno dropped the mitts and kick started the team into gear. He seems loose, has been fantastic  getting possession on the boards and through his play (rather than his words) has lead the team to a start that has the city of Columbus paying attention. May he keeping giving Bobrovsky that post game hug more often than not.

 

Cannonball: Six games until first divisional play

Stars in Columbus

After starting 3-3-1 (7 points), the Jackets begin a busy November that includes four back to backs and their first three games against two divisional opponents (New York Rangers/Washington Capitals x 2). Tonight the Dallas Stars come to Nationwide looking to avenge the 3-0 shutout delivered to them in Dallas. Bobrovsky starts again in goal (he will have to rest at some point) and holds an 8-1-1 record against the Stars. The first match-up saw a goal from a pass off a linesman, Bobrovsky stonewall a flurry of shots in the second period after we returned to turning the puck over in our own zone, and the first game where the Jackets played all but 5-7 minutes consistently and well.

Dallas has the ability to to turn up the heat quickly with Seguin and Jamie Benn bringing both speed and scoring ability. Benn was out of the first meeting for a brief time taking a five minute penalty after mixing it up with Brandon Dubinsky. Murray returns to the lineup scratching Dalton Prout (who has been more of a liability than normal lately) and Dubinsky is clean shaven in an attempt to make any change that gets his offense going.

The penalty kill was a big part of the last game for both clubs, with the Jackets shutting down 5(!) power play attempts to Dallas wiping out two of the Blue Jackets advantages.

A tough schedule lies ahead, these early season points prior to metro play, seem more important than normal.

The Eye Test

An observation. In the games that we have won, we have done a much better job taking the puck off of the wall and possessing it down the ice. In the games that we have lost, it looks like we are simply whacking at the puck hoping for something positive to come about.

Possession crossing both blue lines is something that I believe separates the elite teams from the middling ones. If you want to have good offensive chances, the puck has to be on your stick. Dump and chase has never been our strongest suit.

The Excitement is Back!

After the 0-2 start, it seemed like it was going to be a glum task doing this writing challenge for the entire season. The last four games however, we have looked way more like a team that can compete in every game going forward. Seeing Foligno start well carries over to the rest of the guys, Bob is doing Bob things (the good kind), and Saad seems to finally be finding himself again in the early going. The young guys are hard to miss. Anderson and Werenski both are making names for themselves in Columbus (Werenski outside of Cbus too) and Seth Jones has a crazy high ceiling.

The excitement is back. Let’s Defend Nationwide. Let’s Go Jackets.