It's not often I find myself agreeing with Jeff Rimer, but when he's said on a few occasions that it's a shame that THIS team isn't going to the playoffs because they could do some damage, I'm forced to nod my head in agreement. As we've seen over the last month, this club--now healthy--is playing with the kind of moxie and confidence that we expected all season long.
With four games to go, here are some quick notes:
- The Jackets have two separate winning streaks of seven and nine games (the last one still ongoing...). The latter is a franchise record. They twice broke their franchise record for wins in a month, with 10 in December (10-1-1), and then 11 in March (11-4-0). That means that, in those two months, the team was 21-5-1 (43 points in 27 games). That projects out to a 130-point season.
- Conversely, the Jackets went 2-9-2 in November, and 10-15-1 in January and February. 12-24-3 (27 points in 39 games) projects out to a 57-point season.
- The Jackets have won eight straight on the road, also a franchise record, and have already set their franchise record for road wins with 22, with two more road games to go. Conversely, they will finish with a losing record at home, even if they win their final two home games.
- If the Jackets win out, they will equal last season's franchise record with 43 wins. If you want to know why this team isn't in the playoffs, look no further than their minuscule four OTL points, which is 30th in the league.
- The Jackets have scored 211 goals through 78 games. The team scored 226 (a franchise record) last season in 82 games. That means that, if by some crazy stroke of genius, the club scores 16 goals in their final four games (4.00 per), they will break that record. In a season with basically 500 man games lost to injury.
- Conversely, the Jackets have allowed 238 goals in 78 games. They allowed just 214 last season in 82 games. At their current pace, they'll finish in the neighborhood of 250 goals allowed this season. 36 extra goals allowed is around .44 goals per game. So, basically, every two games they allowed an extra goal this season. That's not good.
When we look at the standings at this point, we can project that the Jackets are probably going to miss the playoffs by about 10 points or so (which, seriously? It could take 98 points just to get in. Still think the East is weak??).
Let's take a look at the entire body of work and see where those 10 points could have come from.
Month By Month
October - 4-6-0
November - 2-9-2
December - 10-1-1
January - 5-8-0
February - 5-7-1
March - 11-4-0
April - 2-0-0
Clearly, November was the big killer. Not surprisingly, that was when the injuries were at their absolute worst. The biggest thing, to my eyes? Sergei Bobrovsky was hurt in November, January, and February. It doesn't take a genius to see that he is clearly the most important player on this team. Want more proof? Bob's record overall this season is 28-17-2. He's 14th in the league in wins despite basically missing two months of the season.
In addition, Bob in December and in March/April has just been crushing it: 21-3-1 record, .929 save percentage. That, friends, is IN. SANE.
vs. East - 23-23-4
vs. West - 16-12-0
vs. Metro - 14-11-3
vs. Atlantic - 9-12-1
vs. Central - 8-6-0
vs. Pacific - 8-6-0
At first glance, the CBJ's performance against the West looks very good. But, as the standings are showing, the East is a deeper conference. Right now, the West has one more team above 100 points, but a team with 92 is in the playoffs. In the East, 95 is the floor right now. In addition, the Jackets have winning records against three of the four divisions, but the Atlantic has been their worst foe thus far.
Team By Team Splits
Montreal - 0-3-0
Tampa Bay - 1-2-0
Boston - 2-0-1
Detroit - 2-1-0
Ottawa - 1-2-0
Florida - 2-1-0
Toronto - 0-2-0
Buffalo - 1-1-0
St. Louis - 2-0-0
Nashville - 0-2-0
Chicago - 2-0-0
Minnesota - 2-0-0
Winnipeg - 0-2-0
Dallas - 1-1-0
Colorado - 1-1-0
Anaheim - 1-1-0
Vancouver - 1-1-0
Calgary - 2-0-0
Los Angeles - 0-2-0
San Jose - 2-0-0
Edmonton - 2-0-0
Arizona - 0-2-0
Remember that whole "the CBJ will probably miss out on the playoff by 10 points" thing above? Look at the record against the five worst teams in the league (Buffalo, Arizona, Edmonton, Toronto, and Carolina): 4-7-1, and three of those wins needed OT or a shootout for Columbus to get the win. They left 15 points on the table in 12 games against the worst teams in the league (with two to go, of course). For a team that could possibly be anywhere from 7-10 points out of a playoff spot when the dust settles, that hurts, A lot.
For reference, those teams are a combined 8-1-3 against the Jackets, and 120-219-44 against the rest of the league. OUCH.
This is the other big one, when looking at the schedule overall. The Jackets lost just four games after regulation, which is the fewest in the league. Philadelphia has the most, with 18 "loser" points. Again, for a team that is missing just a handful of points to grab a playoff spot, those loom large. The Jackets went to extra time 17 times all season, and went 13-4 in those games, including a blistering 8-2 in the shootout.
In one-goal games, the Jackets were actually pretty good. Including OT and SO games, the Jackets have gone 21-8-4 in one-goal games this season. So, if you think about it, there were a few games that were losses that could have earned a "loser" point, but the Jackets' biggest problem earlier in the season is that, when they lost, they often lost BIG. Of their 35 losses, 27 came by two or more goals. That's a problem that needs to be addressed, though one would hope that a more healthy lineup would mitigate some of those beat-downs.
So, what have we learned? This team is... not bad. When healthy. But, this season highlighted a lack of depth at some key positions, most notably goaltender and defense. Injuries did force them to ice an AHL lineup in large chunks for some very rough stretches, but I think we've seen of late that there is more than enough up front when the club is healthy, and we all know more is coming through the pipeline in the next few seasons.
What I will say is this: this team showed us that the resilience they showed last year wasn't a fluke. They showed that they still have some offensive punch when they can ice the lineup the front office intended. They showed that they have a world class goaltender who, when healthy, changes the entire complexion of games.
And, most of all, they showed that injuries DO matter. No player or coach will ever be caught dead on tape using injuries as an excuse for losing, but the numbers don't lie: when the club was its most banged up, they were bad. When they were healthy, they were the team we expected them to be. And, even with the black hole of November and the injury to Bobrovsky in January and February, this team could still finish in the high-80s in points, with an outside shot at hitting 90 for just the third time... ever.
And, while some may lament the lower draft pick possibility, this team showed us that the future is bright. Very bright. Perhaps blindingly so. Keep this lineup mostly intact all season, and look out.