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The Blue Jackets need their stars to step up

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This team can only go as far as these players take them

Columbus Blue Jackets v Detroit Red Wings Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Columbus Blue Jackets have hit some bumps in the road in this early part of the season, having lost 3 of their last 4 after starting the campaign with a 3-1 record. We’ve talked about how the new additions have done, and whether a certain depth forward should play more, but I think the biggest problem is a failure of the most important players to perform consistently.

We want production from all lines and pairs, of course. But in the end I believe the team can only go as far as the core players take them. These are players with All Star Game appearances, award nominations, long term contracts, and the team’s largest cap hits.

To start, I identified the top 3 defenders and top 6 forwards by average ice time. This shows which players the coaching staff trusts the most in all situations. These 9 skaters were among the ice time leaders last season as well. This shouldn’t come as a surprise; in the early season you would expect the coaches to rely on the same players that were trusted last year. As the season goes on this may change as other players earn more time.

Here is a comparison of the last year’s stats to this year’s numbers. Ice time and points per game are in all situations, while Corsi For percentage and shooting percentage are at 5 on 5 only. This does not include last night’s game against Arizona, with the exception of Seth Jones who made his season debut last night.

CBJ Top Skater Comparisons

Player 17-18 TOI Rank 18-19 TOI Rank 17-18 P/G 18-19 P/G 17-18 5v5 CF% 18-19 5v5 CF% 17-18 5v5 SH% 18-19 5v5 SH%
Player 17-18 TOI Rank 18-19 TOI Rank 17-18 P/G 18-19 P/G 17-18 5v5 CF% 18-19 5v5 CF% 17-18 5v5 SH% 18-19 5v5 SH%
Seth Jones 24:36 1 27:24 1 0.73 0.00 54.27 63.04 7.00 0.00
Zach Werenski 22:35 2 24:52 2 0.48 0.63 54.25 45.79 7.50 6.30
David Savard 19:23 5 23:12 3 0.20 0.25 49.47 46.40 8.00 9.90
Artemi Panarin 20:08 3 19:35 5 1.01 1.13 56.49 55.84 7.50 7.70
Cam Atkinson 18:54 6 18:28 7 0.71 0.88 52.24 49.43 8.80 5.30
Nick Foligno 18:21 8 18:21 8 0.46 0.63 51.41 42.28 7.90 11.80
Pierre-Luc Dubois 16:38 13 18:00 9 0.59 0.50 55.58 54.70 6.9 7.30
Boone Jenner 16:28 14 16:51 10 0.43 0.13 47.10 53.33 8.20 5.80
Alexander Wennberg 18:18 10 16:24 11 0.53 0.50 54.03 47.47 10.10 16.70

So which players in particular are struggling? In no particular order:

Seth Jones

Dude didn’t even show up for the first seven games. SLACKER.

Zach Werenski

Now in the third year of his career, Werenski has rarely played with any defensive partner other than Jones. David Savard is a solid defender, but he is not close to the player that Jones is. He was not able to cover enough to allow Z to go “full rover.” Werenski was forced to focus more on defense, and has had growing pains there, too. As you can see, his Corsi numbers have plummeted.

Nick Foligno and Alexander Wennberg

Speaking of that, these two also have seen their possession numbers drop from positive to negative. In Foligno’s case, he is last on the team in CF%. Ironically, their shooting percentages have gone up so they’re producing points at a higher rate. Is that sustainable?

Boone Jenner

On the flip side, Jenner has had negative Corsi numbers for all but the first year of his career, but has been positive this season. He was part of arguably the team’s best line in the first two games, with Brandon Dubinsky and Josh Anderson. With Dubinsky’s injury, the line was broken up and Jenner hasn’t clicked with anyone else. His shooting percentage is very, very low. Unfortunately, this continues a three year trend of declining shooting. Can he get back in front of the net and boost that percentage?

Sergei Bobrovsky

I’m saving the biggest for last. Since his first Vezina season in 2013, this team has gone as far as Bob can take them. When he struggles or has been hurt, the team has suffered as well. So it is this season. His back-up, Joonas Korpisalo, is 2-0 in his starts, while Bob is 2-4. After a 2.42 goals against average and .921 save percentage last season, Bob has an ugly 3.87 goals against average and .872 save percentage.

What is the cause of this dip? Is it just a slump? Is his lingering free agency weighing on him? Is it the new goalie pads? Other goalies have complained about adjusting to the new pads, but none of them have struggled to this extent. Among 23 goalies with 6 or more appearances, Bob is last in save percentage and second to last in goals against average.

He’s had some moments where he locked things down and gave the team a chance, but at the same time he seems to let in a soft one in each game.

This chart (made before last night’s game) proves that Bob is not making the saves he needs to:

Is there good news?

You had to know that I would try to find a silver lining in all of this. We’re only 8 games into the season; that’s just 10% of the season. The other sliver of hope I cling to is that all of these players have been good or great in the past. Are they doomed to decline, or can they rediscover their best game? This team can’t get back into winning ways until they do.