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Near the season’s quarter mark, Blue Jackets aspiring for mediocrity

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Things seem bleak. Then you look at the numbers and either get depressed or try to look at the bright side.

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NHL: Columbus Blue Jackets at Toronto Maple Leafs John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a trying time to experience the rather boring 2019-20 Blue Jackets.

Ryan Real’s article on Thursday perfectly, succinctly, sums up the rather pathetic state of where the Blue Jackets measure on the snooze fest meter. I’ve done a few of the reasonably optimistic articles opining what there was to be happy about, and why things could be seen as glass half-full so far this season.

That last article was about two weeks ago and just following a six-game point streak.

Since then, Columbus has gone 2-4-2. They’re toiling towards the bottom of the Eastern Conference, and only the Devils, by just two points, are worse. The Blue Jackets, with their seven wins, have the fewest wins in regulation (three) and are second in the league with seven — all seven — wins by one goal.

They’ve also lost six games by one goal and only a few games (Penguins, Flyers, Oilers) were clunkers that, by definition, spiraled out of control. The Flyers game was snatched late but Columbus had no business winning that game after being outshot 2-to-1 and propped up by their goalie, Joonas Korpisalo.

Columbus has already been to overtime eight times, which seems nuts on the surface — they had 14 all of last season — and those four losses in the extra session this year could make things seem a little peachier had they found a way to get that other point.

And yet, the return of Elvis Merzlikins to the team and net on Tuesday in Montreal was definitely seen as a lift. Even if it didn’t result in a win, I was intrigued by what I saw. He played well enough to get the win, and at the very least, proved himself worthy of more an equal timeshare in the net with Korpisalo. You can quibble over the individual numbers but the goalies are doing their part more often than not this season to at least give their team a fighting chance.

They might not be stealing games like how Sergei Bobrovsky did in prior years, but this is really more on the offense.

The power play is still bad and I doubt anything changes as long as this coaching staff is in place. Even if it’s not all on the coaches — it's been three years so it clearly is one way or another — the players still aren't executing any better.

Whether it’s X’s and O’s or some other type of rah rah motivation, the shuffling of personnel might help from one game to another, but nothing has worked consistently to take away from the complete discombobulation we see every game from these units.

Going back to an interview with The Columbus Dispatch’s Brian Hedger before the season, one question we asked was “How do you respond to those [fans] that say ‘ask the tough questions?’” [to the coaches].

I know the media has to toe a certain line and will not look to alienate a coach, the staff, and the team. Especially as future media requests are needed. I personally toed that line as an intern in baseball three years ago.

But at the same time, the frustration of a terrible power play is more than warranted by fans who point straight at the coaches for answers. It is on the players, it’s definitely on the coaches. It’s on everyone. No one is absolved from the failures from this particular weak point of the franchise.

And again, I get it. I do. I get that it may not necessarily all be on the coaches. But this is a results driven league, and at the end of the day you’re either good or you aren’t.

Bill Parcells once said, ‘‘You are what your record says you are.” The power play has been abysmal for three seasons now. John Tortorella (you can read the article by The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline - subscription required) took the blame off of Brad Larsen earlier this season, saying the power play falls on him.

Okay. What do we do about that, coach?

I don’t know if things would even be marginally improved if NHL Hall of Famer Martin St. Louis was still part of the operation — there was a nearly 2% uptick last season once he came on board — but I doubt it would be worse under St. Louis as a result. There’s a reason they hired him last January, and I bet he’d still be on the staff if he wanted to be.

(He stepped away before the season to spend more time with his family).

Can Rick Nash coach the power play?

For all those banging the drum for Brad Larsen’s firing, and I’m not usually one to call for someone’s job, I get the outcry.

And I’m sure Larsen has some sort of invaluable imprint within the locker room and the team that we may not truly recognize or understand. But since Jan. 1, 2017, the Jackets are last in the league when on the man-advantage (15.5%): 31st in the league.

Enough.

And here’s where we are after last night’s win by Zach Werenski in overtime.

The offense is another area that isn’t getting the job done but at least we see some reasons for hope.

I made a friendly wager in late October with Seeds that Cam Atkinson will score 30 goals this season, and basically end up with his typical career numbers by season’s end. He has three goals right now.

It’s mid-November.

Currently he’s on pace for 13 goals, 35 assists, and just 47 points which would be his lowest for any full season.

Atkinson has shown some signs of life with assists in his last four games — six in his last eight — but you expect more from the pure goal scorer of the team to have more than three tallies to this point, and none since Oct. 24.

FOX Sports showed a graphic during last night’s game depicting his scoring struggles since last season.

Judging by his expression, he sees it too.

I would be surprised if Atkinson never gets on a scoring roll this season. But it might be too late for the team at that point for any gaudy scoring numbers to really matter for the team as a whole.

For the offense in general, that story — the lack thereof — has remained consistent.

More often than not, according to Natural Stat Trick, the Jackets win the xGF battle, meaning based on their play, they’ve at least seemed worthy of scoring more goals than the opposition. Instead, it’s the score on the actual scoreboard that matters and where they come up short all too often. And that’s just 5v5. We already know how the special teams aren’t helping much.

The Jackets routinely outshoot their opponents — all but four games this season, and in their last seven games — but that means little-to-nothing in the grand scheme if the shots aren’t coming from high-danger areas.

At least they are trending a tad more positively when it comes to their quality chances in terms of Corsi differential versus xG differential. Which lends some perspective towards what we’ve been seeing on a nightly basis with their xGF numbers.

Here’s a stat for you: Leon Draisaitl is the current NHL points leader with 41 (15 goals, 26 assists). Pierre-Luc Dubois leads the Blue Jackets with 12 points (seven goals, five assists).

Just looking at the names on the roster, Columbus undoubtedly has scoring potential. But the individual and collective numbers are so well-below average (2.37 GF/GP, 30th) from the rest of the league right now that you expect the positives, that should still come, will get them to at least...mediocrity?

At this point, you aspire for that. Dull and average. Boring and mediocre. A loyalty leading the 2019-20 Blue Jackets way.