Goaltending, Offense, & The Game State - What Really Needs To Improve?

One of the themes that has come up again and again is that goaltending is a problem for the Blue Jackets, either from comments that Steve Mason might continue to slip and never regain his 2008-2009 form, or the perception among some segments of both local fans and the national hockey media that the acquisition of Mark Dekanich as a backup is a gamble because he's not tested with "veteran" experience.

These same complaints often ignore two key factors - the acquisition of goaltending coach Ian Clark, who Mason was already crediting with helping him get back to the "read and react" state of mind rather than overthinking the game over the offseason, and the fact that the Jackets have made significant changes to the team's offensive firepower.

While it's true that a team relies on their goaltender to succeed, it's also true that if you can score three or four goals a night instead of one or two, the goaltender won't have to work nearly as hard.

Thanks to some stat work by J.J. from SBN's Winging It In Motown blog, and some helpful stats courtesy of Reddit, taking that load off the team's goaltending tandem may be easier than we expected...

To look at the relationship between a goaltender and the team's offense, J.J. was able to provide me with a stat called Game State, tracking how much time the goaltender was on the ice for a 3+ goal lead, a 2 goal lead, a 1 goal lead, even strength, and into goal deficits. Note that this metric also ignores any empty net goals scored after the goalie was pulled, as he obviously was not on ice for them.

Looking at last season, here's how goaltending broke down for the Jackets according to Game State:

Steve Mason

Goal Lead / Deficit

Total Time

% of Total TOI

3+

1:31:38

3.03

2

3:12:07

6.35

1

8:42:14

17.26

0

19:01:53

37.73

-1

10:10:58

20.19

-2

4:42:11

9.32

-3+

3:05:29

6.13

Over an 82 game season, the Jackets spent the bulk of their time with Mason in the pipes at even strength or within one goal. Even though the team spent more time in 2-3 goal deficits than they did with 2-3 goal leads, it's still a fairly low percentage compared to the 1 goal range. For all the complaints about Mason's play last season (and no mistake, there were some stinkers), these were outliers. For the majority of his time on the ice last season (64.37%), the team was playing with a lead or at even strength. In the remaining time where the team trailed, 1 goal could have put them right back into the game more often than not. He was clearly giving the team a chance to win, which is exactly what the goalie is asked to do.

What the team really needed, then, was less about Mason shutting the door, and more about putting a few more pucks into the other guy's net. But how often would one more goal have made a difference?

That's where we turn to some excellent statswork on Reddit by "Iezugod", the CBJ community mod.

Looking at last season, he found the following:

  • The Blue Jackets lost 15 game by 1 goal in regulation (10) or OT (5).
  • The Jackets lost 3 games by 2 goals where the second goal was scored into an empty net.
  • The Jackets lost 8 games where they ended regulation and OT tied, but lost in the shootout.

With 1 point left on the table for each of the shootout losses and the 5 OT losses, that's 13 points the Jackets left on the table - good enough to bump them into 10th place. If they had been able to tie half of the remaining 10 games, even if they had gone on to lose, the additional 5 points in the standings would have been enough to tie the logjam from 4th to 6th place. 

These are a big case of "If", but it's worth recognizing that in attempt to keep from repeating this situation, Columbus added a 30+ goal scorer this offseason in Jeff Carter, and a major offensive upgrade on D with James Wisniewski. Vinny Prospal is a wildcard, but he's likely to replace at least Kristian Huselius' limited production from last season, and anything else would be potentially gravy.

Mason, though, was only part of the team's goaltending solution, and it's worth asking about how Mathieu Garon (and, briefly, David LeNeveau) performed so we can try to set an expectation for what the Jackets need to look for from Mark Dekanich.

Mathieu Garon

Total Time

% of Total

3+

0:20:57

1.08

2

2:06:37

6.53

1

4:48:58

14.91

0

11:09:54

34.57

-1

6:32:31

20.25

-2

3:41:14

11.42

-3+

3:37:49

11.24

David LeNeveu

Total Time

% of Total

3+

0

2

0

1

0

0

0

-1

0

-2

0

-3+

0:20:00

100

Ok, so that really, really isn't fair to LeNeveu - he was in a bad situation to start. But it's worth considering that even as a backup, likely to go into a "bad situation", Garon was swimming in deep water far more often than Mason, spending over 40% of his time in the crease with a deficit - and like Mason, almost 20% of it needing only a single goal to bring the team back upright. 

If we were to look for a goal for "Dex" this season, it would be to revisit the gamestate and hopefully see those -2 / -3 levels reduced, ideally with a higher positive total, but at least more padding to the "0 percentage", partially from additional offensive potential, but also from the fact that I'm hoping we'll see Dex getting more regular starts rather than emergency drop-ins.

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