Cannonball: Preview of the Predators

Tomorrow the Jackets travel to music city to visit Ryan Johansen and the Nashville Predators (6-3-1 in last 10). The Jackets have hit a bit of a skid as of late (5-5-0 in last 10) and have not looked good even in the games we have won as of late. With all-star weekend providing a much needed break to most of the team (except for Jones, Bobrovsky, and hopefully Atkinson now that Malkin is out) which may be just what they need. Not to sound like a grade school coach, but it just doesn’t look like they are having much fun out there right now.

The last three meetings between the Predators and Jackets have not been all that exciting with Nashville taking two out of three games played and all three were won by four goals. Both teams enter this game with a new marquee defender on the roster Nashville via trade (Weber for Subban) and the Jackets via draft (Werenski) and both enter Thursday sporting injuries on defense (Josi for NSH, Savard and Nutivaara for CBJ – Savard may be available).

Here is a quick team stats comparison:

Offense Ranking:   CBJ: 3rd  NSH: 12th

Defense Ranking: CBJ: 4th  NSH: 10th

Power play ranking: CBJ: 1st  NSH: 16th

Penalty Kill Ranking: CBJ: 8th  NSH:10th

Goals per Game AVG: CBJ: 3.30  NSH: 2.75

Goals Against AVG: CBJ: 2.32  NSH: 2.52

PIM per Game: CBJ: 9.1  NSH: 9.8

Shot Differential per Game: CBJ: .32  NSH: .92

Player Highlight:

For the CBJ Cam Atkinson just keeps scoring goals (second in the NHL only to some guy named Crosby) and has done so in the last two games even with being taken off the NHL’s #1 power play unit.

For NSH while former Jacket Ryan Johansen leads the club in points (36), Filip Forsberg has been coming on over the course of the last 15 days after a tumultuous start to the season. He is currently 15-17-32 with a -4 +/-.

Game Insight:

The current question is who will start in goal for the CBJ? Korpisalo has not been strong in his last full showing giving up six in a win against Ottawa (though he did stop the bleeding against NYI once Bobrovsky was pulled after giving up four), and Bobrovsky is coming off a game in which he was pulled (his third this season, Boston, Washington, New York Islanders). Bobrovsky has been the winning goalie in each start following being pulled thus far this season. With Bob’s selection as an all-star, I have to believe he starts against Nashville and then sits against the Rangers immediately following the all-star break. If Bob is in, we most likely win – rhyme optional.

Our vets have to get going. Brandon Saad is on a cold streak that has to end (right?), Dubinsky has been strong in the faceoff circle but only possesses a 7.7% shooting percentage, and Boone Jenner has been invisible for the majority of games this season. On the young guy side of the roster, no one has emerged as dependable in the faceoff circle with both Karlsson (44.8% face off wins) and Wennberg (46% face off wins) continuing to struggle. Luckily, the predators face a similar issue with their 3rd and 4th line guys struggling to get the puck off the dot too (Ribeiro 41.2% and Sisson 48.9%).

For me, this game is less about the Predators and more about the Blue Jackets getting back to better play. Our ten game record does not accurately reflect how poorly we have been defending or that we have gone back to primarily dumpling and chasing rather than possessing into the offensive zone. This involves playing more than one period per game well. We will be a playoff team this year and we have to start gearing up for that level of play.

Worthless stat:

So far this season, Nashville wins 65% of its home games and Columbus wins 65% of its away games

Interesting stat:

The Blue Jackets currently have ZERO players that have played in 10 games or more with a negative +/-. Even lifting the 10 game criteria only two are negative (Milano -1, 2 GP and Bjorkstrand -1, 5GP).

Let’s Go Jackets!

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.

 

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.

 

BOF Report: The Weekend Circus (W,OTL)

Basically:

Friday night against Montreal, I game that I was in attendance for, 10-0 Jackets. Saturday an overtime loss to St Louis. In both cases, most coverage outside of Columbus was more along the lines of how the other team played so poorly, rather than the Jackets playing well. Montreal was perfection. Everything went our way, Anderson’s backhanded flip into the goal was far and away my favorite moment, and Carey Price was on the sidelines. St. Louis was a little bit of back and forth (with plenty of sloppy play) but felt like it could fall to the Jackets in overtime after we possessed the puck to start OT for a looooong time. When Tarasenko made the move around Saad, it was over before he ever took the shot. McIllhinney was fantastic, Dubinsky continued to be MIA, and Jones (now out for three weeks with a fracture) continues to show just how high his ceiling might be.

The Overreaction:

5-3-2! 5-3-2! We are making the playoffs. Go ahead and have the shirts made. I don’t care if the Rangers, Capitals, and Penguins are the best three teams in the entire league right now (and all in the Metro) we are making the damn playoffs! Look at this start!

Final Thought:

Wennberg is looking like the player everyone thought he could be. Werenski is going to be an absolute stud. Jones gets better every week. The beginning of this season finally gives me hope that our young talent will pan out. It helps that Bob (and Mac against St Louis) are playing exceptionally well, but we have a strength in special teams to build off of and our 5 v 5 seems to be improving with each game. If our typically dependable players (looking at you Dubi and Boone) get going, it is going to be a really fun season.

Point Scorers for CBJ (St. Louis game only):

Goals: Anderson

Assists: n/a

Cannonball: Early Season Observations

As this is the first time I am doing this, from time to time I am going to write about what I am seeing (hopefully with some statistics to back it up) and these posts will be called the Cannonball. All opinions are my own, stats from Hockey-Reference.com and musing from other pundits (who I will credit)

Special Teams Looking Special

Our only allowed power play goal was an empty net goal versus the Sharks, placing our penalty kill percentage after five games at 94.12%. I credit the addition of Brad Shaw on this one, and I think we will continue to see success as the season goes on in this area. His PK in St. Louis was special (albeit he had more talent there) but the opportunism for short-handed goals has been a welcome development. If we begin to capitalize on these opportunities, we may become a very dangerous offensive PK unit.

Our power play is looking amazing thus far as well. We are 5-10 on PP opportunities and I didn’t realize how quickly we are scoring those goals until seeing Portzline’s tweet earlier today. All PP goals have been scored under 50 seconds and four of those goals were scored under 26 seconds into the power play. If you have been a fan as long as I have, then you have been in Nationwide as the boo-birds come out as we have held and passed the puck without taking any shots in the past. Welcome to the new world, way better than the old world. Also of note, Alexander Wennberg has racked up 4 assists on the PP unit thus far and I have been impressed with his presence thus far (he was may prediction for breakout player after-all) except for in the face off circle, which we will get to next.

On the dot, but off the mark

Our faceoff success continues to be lackluster. Given, the center position is probably biggest need for improvement but off all Jackets skaters who have taken ten or more faceoffs thus far – none are over 50% in success rate. Take a look below:

Dubinsky – 42 wins in 91 total faceoffs, 46.2%

Gagner – 11 wins in 24 total faceoffs, 45.8%

Karlsson – 32 wins in 55 total faceoffs, 49.2%

Wennberg – 31 wins in 71 total faceoffs, 43.7%

This eventually is going to bite us harder than the two losses we have taken. Statistically speaking, we do not have a go-to right now when the game is on the line. Dubinsky performed well last year (and I expect his numbers to improve), but on a team that already has possession issues – this is an area that stings.

Hopefully not a sign of things to come

Currently 11 CBJ members hold a negative +/- rating and only 5 possess a rating in the positive range. I would like to think that the team we have seen in the last three games is the team that will come out all season (these ratings in only five games are anchored down by the Boston walloping), but these numbers give me a bit of pause. Werenski (0 +/-), Wennberg (-1 +/-)and Foligno (0 +/-) lead the way with five points and while the rookie has been the story, you can’t be anything but happy to see the captain with a strong start after last years struggles. Saad broke through in the last game and look for him to add a few more points tonight and tomorrow.

Big back to back

With at least one game-in-hand on all of the other members of the metropolitan division, tonight’s game against the Sharks and tomorrow’s against the Ducks have a chance of putting us in divisional territory that has been unfamiliar the last couple of seasons. With a win tonight, we would be tied for third in the metro and with wins in both games we would be tied with Pittsburgh for second in the metro after 7 games (others still have there 7th game to play as well). I am cautiously optimistic. We seem to play well on west coast swings historically, and we are going to need to have a good standing as we start division play with the Capitals with the 14th game of the season.

While my game by game predictions have not been so hot thus far, my overall record of 8-4-1 in the first 13 is still alive.

Let’s Go Jackets!!!

BOF Report: 10/25 Kings (OTL 3-2)

Basically:

The story of the season thus far is how the Jackets special teams are playing so dominantly. Saad gets on the board for the first time this season and Gagner creates a goal for Atkinson (a beauty). Bobrovsky continues to look tough and was tested with some looks that easily could have been goals, especially in the first period. Transition back in overtime ended up costing us the second point, but Jones has played well thus far so we cannot hold this turnover against him too much. We take the point and move on to back to backs with San Jose and Anaheim.

The Overreaction:

I understand that Murray is hurt, I get it, and to a certain point I am used to it. But why in the holy hell do we keep putting Nutivaara and Prout on the same pairing?!? We might as well hang on sign around Bob’s neck saying “here’s your chance”.  These two haven’t been able to get the puck cleanly out of our own end yet. Is Harrington worse than this? WTF?

Final Thought:

Werenski finally had a game where he didn’t make it onto the score sheet. Even without notching a point, it is impossible not to notice him in every game. We constantly hear about developing talent, but this kid has “it” and he showed up in Columbus possessing it before we made any adjustments.

Point Scorers for CBJ:

Goals: Atkinson, Saad

Assists: Foligno, Gagner, Savard, Wennberg

 

BOF Report: 10/15 Sharks (L 3-2)

Basically:

We looked frantic in the first, and for about half of the second, period(s) on the puck. Not only in our own zone, but also on offense. I like the idea of the Jackets playing fast, but being fast without control has never worked for anyone in any professional sport. We settled in towards the end of the game and had some chances that should have been converted (so did they) that could have made for different ending. Bobrovsky has looked good two games in and the great line shuffle to find cohesiveness in-game began. I don’t like that we are 0-2, but am not going all Michael Arace yet in exploring next year’s draft options.

The Overreaction:

Here we go again. Pack it in kids, eliminated from the playoffs before the end of freaking October. Our top line might not make have enough to play third line on some other clubs right now. We have to finish the easy looks. Anderson had one in the first period, Karlsson in the second. Stop thinking and put the puck in the net. Another thing. Don’t talk to me about conditioning ever again, conditioning has nothing to do with the ability to pass the puck from one Blue Jacket to another successfully. Can we also please never put Prout and Nutivaara on the same defensive pairing. That was hard to watch. Get it together!!!

Final Thought:

Bobrovsky had 35 saves for a .946 save percentage. He is doing his part, now we just need to get the offense rolling and that cannot be done if we cannot keep possession of the puck coming out of our own zone. Luckily, other than the Penguins, all other metro division teams have at least one loss or overtime loss so the hole is not as deep as it could be. Chicago comes to town on Friday, have to find a way into the win column.

Point Scorers for CBJ:

Goals: Anderson, Werenski

Assists: Atkinson, Hartnell, Wennberg