The Columbus Blue Jackets, one month and some change into the season, find themselves in deep water. Out of 18 games played, they’ve won only three in regulation. They’re three points clear of dead last in the NHL as of this writing. Their power play is a dog’s breakfast.
All of those should sound the alarm, even this early in the season and even showing signs of progress. The Blue Jackets have a bigger problem than being bad, though: they’re boring.
This post could end here, with that sentiment, and you’d get the point. But you’re not allowed to just say whatever you want on the Internet, so let’s explore the concept of boring and how the 2019-20 Blue Jackets excel at ennui.
First off: Scoring isn’t boring, and neither is winning. Unfortunately, the Blue Jackets have struggled in both areas. Nobody except Detroit scores fewer goals per game, and the team boasts exactly one more victory than five-win New Jersey. “They play better than average defense, though,” you might say. You’d be right! An excellent piece from Alison Lukan at The Athletic demonstrates how the CBJ limit shot quality and stifle opposing offenses. Good defense, by and large, isn’t fun to watch, though. It is when it’s coupled with goals scored, which..see above.
The style of play this season isn’t doing the Blue Jackets any favors, either. The team has favored racking up the shots, but they’re not of the highest quality.
Game Pace— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) November 13, 2019
If you watch a PHI or FLA game, you won't see lots of shots but the ones you see will excite you!
If you watch NSH or CBJ, you'll get the quantity and I hope you enjoy shots from the point and half-wall. pic.twitter.com/dgYaak8XsO
The difference between Columbus and Nashville, of course, is that Nashville’s shots go in the net at a prodigious pace.
PDO breakdown— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) November 13, 2019
CBJ and DET get 5v5 goals with 6.5% of their shots.
NSH gets goals on just under 11% of shots.
That's a big difference.
SJS gets saves on 87% of 5v5 shots faced.
NYI gets saves on more than 94% of shots faced.
Again, kind of a difference. pic.twitter.com/jKwU2bO7KG
(See? Columbus is even in the “dull” category. It’s mathematically proven!)
So not only are the Blue Jackets not putting the puck in the net, they’re not even failing in a fun way. These games aren’t 6-5 track meets. They’re 2-1 or 3-2 slogs that Columbus often comes out on the wrong end of. They’re not losing big in the way that sparks impassioned boos or throwing jerseys (don’t) or blocks of empty seats. They were supposed to suck this year, but they can’t even manage that.
What about overtime? Overtime’s fun, right? Nothing beats 3-on-3 hockey. The Blue Jackets have won three games in overtime, and those were blasts. That Cam Atkinson goal against Carolina? A thing of beauty. On the other hand, they’ve lost three games in overtime. All three of those games ended within the first minute of the extra period. The only shootout this season (on Tuesday in Montreal) saw all three Blue Jackets fail to score. The exciting part of the losses could last longer, is all.
It’s not all about scoring and winning, though. A team can be a dumpster fire (which the CBJ are not, at least not yet), but that team can at least be a fun dumpster fire. In losing Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky, the team lost its best offensive and defensive weapons. We’ve thoroughly covered that ground already. But even if those two weren’t playing well, they brought a panache and excitement to the ice that’s sorely missing this year. Anthony Duclair, too. It’s not all on them, though. Firebrand Brandon Dubinsky has missed the entire campaign so far with a wrist injury that has apparently put his career in jeopardy. Instead of screaming at referees or giving the finger to Montreal photographers, he’s been reduced to raising hell with Christmas tree manufacturers on Twitter. Cam Atkinson, he of smiles and sunshine and almost f-bombs, has gone quiet as his scoring frustrations have piled up. Josh Anderson has two points and none of his trademark Big Man explosiveness.
Even the off-ice drama has been dull. For a John Tortorella-coached club, team histrionics have hit new lows. The juiciest storylines this season so far: a goalie blows his stack, the coach defends an abysmal power play and lineup decisions confuse, alienate fans. Yawn.
It doesn’t have to be like this forever. We’re early in the season. The subject of one of those lineup decisions, Sonny Milano, delivered one of the flashiest goals this franchise has ever seen (and we're leaving his un-fun legal proceedings out of this). Joonas Korpisalo’s outbursts probably haven’t boosted team morale (or his own playing prospects), but they weren’t boring. Pierre-Luc Dubois has speed, a scoring touch and fought Sidney Crosby this season. Elvis Merzlikins looked good on Tuesday and loves a microphone. They’re not that far out of a playoff spot, despite their current basement-adjacent spot in the standings. Plus, much of the underlying analytics point to a team that has suffered its share of bad luck that could turn at any moment.
There’s hope for this team to put together some more fun moments, even if they don’t translate to wins. We’ll be ready. In the meantime, we’ll continue to pound shots of NoDoz before power plays and look for the GIFable moments in low-scoring mid-week losses.