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February 2018: Month in Review

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Hang in there, baby

NHL: Columbus Blue Jackets at New York Islanders Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Previously: October, November, December, January

I swear I didn’t intentionally put off writing the review of this month. Honestly.

RESULTS

L 1-3 vs. SJS
L 3-4 @ NYI
L 2-3 vs. WAS
L 2-4 @ WAS
W 6-1 vs. NJD
W 4-1 @ NYI
L 3-6 @ TOR
L 1-2 (OT) vs. PHI
L 2-5 vs. PIT
W 2-1 @ NJD
L 1-2 @ PHI
W 3-2 vs. CHI
W 5-1 vs. WAS

5-7-1, 11 points in 13 games. Not good enough. The month started with 4 straight regulation losses, though in each case the team played well enough to win. That was followed by a long awaited offensive explosion, with 3 consecutive games with 50+ shots, a modern NHL record. The highlight of the month came with a cathartic 5-1 thrashing of the Capitals, featuring the debut of two trade deadline acquisitions, Mark Letestu and Ian Cole.

STANDINGS

At the end of the month, the Blue Jackets were hanging on to the second wild card position in the east, 4 points ahead of Carolina and 5 ahead of the surging Florida Panthers.

STATS

February Stats

Stat Feb. Rank Jan. Rank Dec. Rank Nov. Rank Oct. Rank
Stat Feb. Rank Jan. Rank Dec. Rank Nov. Rank Oct. Rank
Goals For 35 21 18 31 40 13 31 21 36 t-13
Goals Allowed 35 t-11 25 23 52 30 27 5 30 t-6
Power Play % 21.2 16 26.1 7 15.7 20 9.4 30 8.6 31
Penalty Kill % 74.2 25 57.1 31 77.1 24 82.8 t-9 84.4 6
5v5 Shooting % 6.8 t-22 4.1 31 7.3 18 7.5 15 7.7 18
5v5 Save % 91.6 t-18 96.3 1 90.4 29 94.1 t-3 92.8 t-8
5v5 PDO 98.4 t-24 100.4 19 97.7 27 101.6 t-6 100.6 16
5v5 Corsi For % 55.8 3 49.75 19 48.6 22 51.54 11 53.75 4

Big month for controlling possession. Still difficulty in converting those shots. Penalty kill still in the bottom half, but better than January, when it was the league’s worst.

THREE STARS

Third Star: Jarmo Kekalainen

I’m putting Jarmo here for what I thought was a successful trade deadline. Mark Letestu is strong on faceoffs and on the penalty kill, while Thomas Vanek is a goal scorer. All of those areas needed improvement. Ian Cole provides depth and experience to a blue line that had just lost the services of Dean Kukan and Markus Nutivaara. All it cost were mid-round draft picks and middling prospects.

A fair criticism is that he failed to get any return for the pending UFAs Jack Johnson and Matt Calvert. But it’s possible the market was not there for them, and that they may yet provide more value to the team during the stretch run than they would have brought back in a trade.

Second Star: Artemi Panarin

Tied for the lead in goals (5), tied for the lead in assists (6), team lead in points (11). Yawn.

First Star: Cam Atkinson

HEEEEEEEE’S BAAAAAAAAAAAACK. Cam’s 5 goals in the month were tied for the team lead. Since returning from injury on January 25, he has scored in 6 of 15 games through the end of February (while adding another on March 1). He also added 6 assists in that span. He’s finally developing chemistry with Panarin like we expected to see at the start of the season.

NEEDS IMPROVEMENT

Expected Goals

Expected goals is a stat which takes the history of shot data to determine the chances of success of each shot attempt, based on location and shot type. Over the course of a game, the sum of each shot gives you a number that is the number of goals you would expect a team to have scored or allowed in that game. For most of the month, the Blue Jackets won the xGF battle. And yet, they still lost many of those games. They controlled possession, created high danger chances around the net...and just couldn’t finish enough. It’s as aggravating as it is perplexing.

Injuries

Yep, still. Dean Kukan had been playing better, then suffered an upper body injury on February 18 and will miss four weeks. Markus Nutivaara suffered an upper body injury on the 17th and there is no expected return date yet. The month ended with Josh Anderson suffering a sprained knee which will keep him out of the lineup for most if not all of March. Nick Foligno missed a week at the end of the month with a lower body injury.

This season hasn’t been as dramatically marred by injuries as 2015-16, but enough key players have missed enough time that it has been a factor in the team’s struggles.

Inconsistency

I could call out individual players here, but the fact is everyone has had struggles. We get glimpses of the team’s potential, like when they put up 50, 51, and 57 shots in one set of games. Then a week later they have games where they only produce 19 and 20 shots on goal. Even within a game, they can have a great first period, but then get overwhelmed in the next two periods.

I see enough to know this is a good enough roster, which makes the lack of results all the more frustrating. With a bad team it is easier to lower your expectations.