The Blue Jackets are currently riding a six-game winning streak which, outside of the first week or so of the season, is the first sign of optimism all year. After continuing to endure a rash of injuries almost unheard of in the annals of NHL history, the team reached their nadir of 6-15-1, and were firmly planted at the bottom of the standings.
The winning streak has changed things, of course. But, what about those standings? The biggest thing in the Jackets' corner is the fact that their division is pretty dreadful. Columbus weathered a bad start least season, righted the ship, and made their way into the playoffs as a Wild Card. Can this season's team somehow do the same?
Better yet, could they even make it in as the #3 seed in the Metro?
Let's look at the standings and see what we can find out.
Current Metropolitan Division Standings
There's not really much there to get excited about if you're Columbus, right? Well, maybe, and maybe not. If you look just at the point-per-game number, Columbus is in sixth place at best. That said, in their last six games, they've shown that they are capable of being a good enough team to beat playoff teams both at home and on the road, and they've given us a glimpse of the team we saw last spring.
It's impossible to extrapolate accurately based on a snapshot of point-per-game numbers, so the reason I also included each team's last 10 games record is to illustrate how teams are trending. Pittsburgh is Pittsburgh, and largely irrelevent to the discussion. The Rangers are back to playing good hockey, and while the Islanders' pace has slowed a bit they've been consistent all season. Other than that? A lot of mediocrity. The division really seems to have three tiers right now: the good teams (Pittsburgh, Islanders), the decent teams (Washington, Rangers), and the streaky teams (Philly, New Jersey, Columbus). Carolina looks like they're all aboard the tank express, so we'll excuse them from the rest of the conversation.
The larger point is this: there are five teams behind the "good" teams that are not too far apart in terms of points per game. Only a quarter of a point per game separates them from each other. We've seen that Columbus can beat all of those teams, but we've also seen them lose to two of the more mediocre teams when they're not playing well.
All of this is just a fancy way of saying: it's wide open past the top two right now.
What about last year? Well, the Jackets--eerily--found themselves sitting at 12-14-3 through 29 games, or basically one point ahead of where they are right now. More importantly, how did the Metro standings look then?
Metropolitan Division Standings - Saturday, December 7, 2013
Huh. Last year, the division actually started out worse than this year. But, just the same, Columbus found themselves only a handful of points out of a playoff spot, though again way down in seventh place. This time, the PPG stats were much more closely bunched, and no one had really pushed themselves out of it except the Islanders. (Also fun, look at the team standings. Carolina and the Isles were flipped, but every other team was in the exact. same. spot.)
So, what does all of this mean? Nothing, really, except to say that there's no way this is over, not by a long shot. At this point last season, the three non-Pittsburgh teams that made the playoffs from the division sat in 4th, 5th, and 7th place, respectively. And, they weren't in any better shape--really--last year than this. In other words, if what we've seen of late is closer to the "real" Blue Jackets, they're probably capable of fighting their way back into things.
What if we look at some larger trends? This is in NO way scientific or a prognostication of any kind, but Columbus is fairly unique this season in that they've had a six-game winning streak preceded by two losing streaks of nine and six games. They've been basically all over the map. However, since ending the big nine-game losing streak that coincided with the huge injury wave (also known as The Dark Times), Columbus has posted an 8-5-1 record. That's good for 17 points in 14 games, or 1.21 points per game. Again, this isn't scientific, because that 8-5-1 run is composed of a two-game winning streak and a six-game winning streak on either ends of an 0-5-1 stretch.
Let's look at it another way. You can break the season up into three or four subsets to get a sense of how the team is/was playing, and look at a few numbers. I break it into the following three groups, with the final (current) group having two "sub-groups" that are: a) the last nine games to not only include some losses to get a better statistical picture, but because I thought Columbus played well for most of those games, even the losses, and b) the win streak
Group 1 - The Start (first six games, team starts off 4-2-0)
Group 2 - The Dark Times (everybody gets hurt, the team eats it raw to the tune of 0-8-1)
Group 3 - The Resurgence? (aforementioned 8-5-1 run to present)
Group 3a - The Recent (the last nine games, 6-3-0)
Group 3b - The Streak (the six game winning streak)
Here's how it stacks up, using the following stats: EV Corsi % (the percentage of even-strength shot attempts in a game by the Jackets); EV Goal Differential (goal differential at even strength); ST Goal Differential (special teams goal differential, i.e. [PPG-SHGA] - [PPGA-SHG]); Shooting Percentage; Save Percentage (all numbers from war-on-ice.com)
|Stat||The Start||The Dark Times||The Resurgence?||The Recent||The Streak|
|EV Corsi %||51.6%||46.6%||43.7%||42.6%||41.0%|
|EV Goal Differential||0||-14||-7||-2||+5|
|ST Goal Differential||+3||-4||+1||+1||0|
Okay, okay... what does all of this junk mean??
Well, it shows what I think most of us have seen and felt: this team fell off a cliff when everyone got hurt, and then, slowly, but surely, has climbed their way back out of the chasm to where we thought they could/would/should be. There is one trend that is alarming, and that's the EV Corsi % number, which is steadily declining. That's obviously not good, but I think there's a ghost (pepper) in the machine. Note that the team's EV goal differential has steadily improved since The Dark Times, and is actually plus-five during the win streak even though the Corsi % number is the worst of the groups.
That Florida Game.
It's the total outlier, here. Notice as well that the Jackets' team save percentage is IN-SANE during that stretch (actually second best in the entire league). That 55-shot game in Florida, man. To get a better sense of how the team is performing at EV over The Recent and The Streak, we need to look at the data and see how much That Florida Game messes with the numbers for such small sample sizes.
Turns out, it's a lot.
Keep in mind, all of this reflects ONLY the even-strength numbers. During The Recent (nine games), the Jackets got out-attempted 405 to 300. That -105 number was third worst in the league over this date range. The chart above reflects that number as such: 300 / (300+405) = 42.6%
During The Streak, it's even more pronounced. The Jackets had 188 shot attempts against 270 for their opponents (188 / (188+270) = 41.0%). Their -82 was third worst in the league. AND THEY WON ALL SIX OF THOSE GAMES.
To quote Vince Lombardi, what the hell is going on out there?
Oh, yeah. That Florida Game.
In that game alone, the Jackets got out-attempted at even strength 71 to 26. Holy balls, man. That's an EV Corsi % of 26.8%, which I don't have to tell you all is terri-bad. That said, it's also the reason those Corsi % numbers are so low even over stretches where the Jackets have played well, and especially during The Streak when they've outscored their opponents at EV by a five-goal margin. Oddly enough, in fact, they out-scored Florida at EV in that f**king game!!
Let's take those numbers out of the other two percentages, and see if we can't get a better look at how the team is trending:
The Recent w/o Florida - CBJ out-attempted 334 to 274. 274 / (274+334) = 45.1% CF
The Streak w/o Florida - CBJ out-attempted 199 to 162. 162 / (162+199) = 44.9% CF
Back to the point, you say? Right.
The Jackets are playing better of late. It still needs to be mentioned that those EV Corsi % numbers aren't good, and are not where the team needs them to be overall, but they are trending back in the right direction, at least. Whether or not The Resurgence? is the new normal, one can't really say. That said, I don't think it's impossible that the team might finally be finding itself, when you look at how the numbers have rebounded over these last 14 games as the team's gotten healthy and gotten some confidence.
I'll stop short of predicting how many points are needed to make the playoffs, but let's suppose that the Jackets can continue to play at that 1.21 PPG clip that they've enjoyed during The Resurgence?. That would give them roughly 64 points earned the rest of the way, and would finish them at an even 90 points. Would that be good enough? It's too hard to say.
But what isn't too hard to say is that, looking at history and at trends, the Jackets clearly still have a path to the post-season. Whether they can walk that path is entirely up to them at this point.