I think it's time to take another look where the Jackets stand in the NHL. Previously, I tried to look at what was ailing the Jackets so much while they were in a tailspin-of-doom. This time, I want to look at some different metrics to see what else we can learn about the team.
Some people (including me) have suggested that the Jackets defense isn't as historically awful as we or the media claim. I have personally wondered what the Jackets goals against per game (GA/G) would be like if the team didn't have some of its blowout losses. It's an interesting concept, so I decided to follow through on it.
A Look at Bad Games and the Goals Against
In order to remove some scores, I took all the scores and calculated a GA/G just as any other NHL site would. For games that went to a shootout, I only counted the scoring goals (so I left this at a tie). Beyond that, it's the same metric used in a typical big list of team stats. Nothing fancy, but can be informative.
As of 1:00 pm today (1/22), the Jackets have an overall 3.085 GA/G. Next, I defined a few types of games and removed them from the overall schedule to see the change in team defense.
"Big" Loss Games - Losing by 3 Goals or More: Total of 12 Games
This number of games itself is actually quite informative. The Jackets don't seem very good at slowing opponents when things get out of hand. Being that the team has only played 47 games, these 12 games are 25.5% of all games played. Not the most impressive statistic.
So what happens if we removed all these games from the schedule? It's unrealistic, given the large number of such losses, but the GA/G without 3 goal + losses is 2.314. So when the Jackets don't lose big, they're keeping the opponents off the scoreboard. But that's not totally realistic, so what about other types of games?
"Blowout" Loss Games - Losing by 4 Goals or More: Total of 7 Games
GA/G when removing Blowout Losses from the schedule is 2.600.
Unfortunately, this is still slightly unrealistic to do. 7 games continues to be a fairly large problem. It seems that the Jackets need to change something to avoid these kind of losses. This would strongly support the need for better defensemen, and it's something I can't rationally argue against right now.
"Epic" Loss Games - Losing by 5 Goals or More: Total of 3 Games
GA/G when removing Epic Losses from the schedule is 2.886.
This is a more realistic manner of looking at the massive losses. If you can remove the games against Buffalo, Pittsburgh and Anaheim, the team would be 18th in the league for GAA. While the placement doesn't seem so great, the actual number is much improved over the current 3.085. This places the Jackets within striking distance of 11th (Dallas with a 2.60 GAA).
How does the team avoid these kind of losses? It's hard to say from these three games. They're not ultimately very similar - two were on the road, one at home. In only one game did the Jackets give up more than 2 goals in the first period (Pittsburgh). One point of similarity is the penalty kill. In all three games, the Jackets did surrender three or more power play goals. This speaks to the pathetic level of PK the Jackets are suffering right now, and shows a need for improvement.
What Skaters Can be Blamed?
The penalty kill was awful in all three games. I decided to also take a look at what players were on the ice when goals were scored against. A full play-by-play has all the info you need for that (like the one from the Ducks game here). Who were some of the biggest offenders?
These guys are supposed to be the defensive forwards and "shutdown" defensemen, and they were on for a fairly large number of goals against. Maybe this means that the grit players on Columbus really aren't this wonderful asset. Particularly when someone like Pahlsson has a cap hit of $2.65 Million and doesn't show much offensive skill, I would hope his PK skill would be more consistent. Admittedly, this is a slightly unfair analysis as it is a small sample of games, but when Pahlsson is described as the best defensive forward with CBJ, I can't help but wonder if the overall poor PK for the season might stem from #26.
Can We Blame the Goalies?
Not surprisingly, the three Epic Loss games feature miserable goaltending. In the game vs Anaheim (Jan 7th) Mason started and had a .833 SV%, only to see Garon come in and do noticeably worse with a .600 SV%. Against Buffalo, Garon played the entire game and had an awful .865 SV%. Against Pittsburgh, Mason started and had an abysmal .692 SV%. Garon came in and only looked better because he wasn't Mason - Garon put up a .864 SV%.
It's impossible to determine from raw save percentage whether the goalies faced high shot quality, but the miserable save percentages do indicate that the both Mason and Garon were quite bad in the Epic Losses.
Conclusions - Defense and Offense
Previously, I concluded that the Jackets need more offense to be competitive. I don't think this study of blowout losses negates that concept. The Jackets continue to be only 25th in the league in Goals For per Game (only slightly ahead of Toronto and Edmonton). Increasing goals scored can only help, and to this end the Jackets still haven't improved since January 1st (now down from 2.55 G/G to 2.53).
However, it is also quite clear to me that the Jackets need to do something to improve defense. This might involve higher-quality defensive forwards, but more likely it means that all the clamoring for better defensemen is very justified. Limiting shot quality and shutting down opposing power plays would go a long way toward pushing the Jackets closer to a playoff berth. Goaltending is also a real concern in these Epic Losses, as neither netminder was able to seriously impact a losing cause. While you can't rely only on a goalie, 25% of their games haven't looked too good either.
Avoiding big losses should be important to the team. They're beaten by 3 or more goals in 25% of games - that's not good. The Jackets need to change something to avoid these kinds of beatdowns and improve their chances at winning games. I personally think this starts with the penalty kill as it represents a serious weak point. Whether this means new defensive forwards, better defensemen or better goalies can be debated, but team defense needs to improve.