It’s a popular talking point among NHL pundits that American Thanksgiving marks a key milestone in the season: if a team isn’t in a playoff position by that point, it is unlikely they will be able to battle back, even with two thirds of the season remaining. On the flip side, 80% of teams on the right side of the playoff cut line at this point can be expected to make the postseason.
As of this writing, the Columbus Blue Jackets are in the first wild card position, with 24 points in 19 games (.632 points percentage). Recent episodes of the Puck Soup and Athletic Hockey Show podcasts went through the standings to assess which teams were likely to be in the 20% that rose or fell, and the Blue Jackets were an obvious pick by all panelists to fall off their current pace and miss the playoffs. Are they right?
Reasons the Jackets are legitimately good:
The power play, long an Achilles’ Heel, is finally competent. It has cooled down a bit since Patrik Laine left the lineup, but they can still be expected to get at least one power play goal every other game.
Speaking of Laine, he and Max Domi have both had the bounceback season they desperately needed — when healthy. Laine has 10 points in 9 games (3G/7A) and Domi has 9 points in 9 games (3G/6A).
Another point per game player is Jakub Voracek, with one goal and 18 assists in 19 games. The goal and nine of the assists have come with the man advantage. It was hoped that acquiring him could help the power play, and so far he’s done just that. In addition, he has embraced the role of mentor to rookie linemates Cole Sillinger and Yegor Chinakhov.
The Blue Jackets added some offensive defensemen, and so far the blue line has combined for 16 goals. Last season in 56 games that unit had a total of 23 goals. Even shutdown defender Vladislav Gavrikov has contributed 12 points (good for 5th on the team).
Elvis Merzlikins has proved worthy of the extension he signed this summer. He has a 9-3 record with a .929 save percentage and a 2.41 goals against average. Eight of his 12 starts have been quality starts, with no really bad starts (per Hockey-Reference). He ranks 8th in the league in SV% and Goals Saved Above Average per 60 minutes, among goalies with over 600 minutes played (per Natural Stat Trick).
Reasons the Blue Jackets will miss the playoffs:
The schedule has been favorable. They’ve played fewer games than anyone in the division besides New Jersey. They’ve played more than half of their games at home. Most unusual is that they’ve only played six games against opponents from the Metro division. They are just 2-4 in those games. With the schedule getting busier and the division having only one team under hockey .500 (the underperforming Islanders), it will be a challenging stretch run.
As good as Merzlikins has been, Joonas Korpisalo has not been as reliable as the backup goaltender. The team is just 3-4 in his starts and his SV% and GAA are the worst of his career.
The underlying stats paint a less flattering picture of the Jackets than the standings do. At 5v5, they are 21st in xGF% (48.8) and 19th in actual GF% (47.62). Over time, these numbers would suggest the team should lose more often than they win. The defense has been porous, while the offensive has been very hot-or-cold. This inconsistency occurs from game to game, and even period to period.
What do you think? Does this team have what it takes to stay in playoff contention? Or are they due to cool off, and finish closer to what most expected of them? I think the answer may be somewhere in the middle: they will continue to be a tough team to play against, and will be in range of the playoffs well into 2022. Though they’ll miss out, they will at least finish well out of the basement. Injuries or trades could change that trajectory for the worst, however.
The week that was
We wrote about what we were thankful for this year.
JKinCLE provided his monthly update on the Cleveland Monsters, including an update on the Berube vs. Tarasov goalie battle, and the return of Trey Fix-Wolansky.
PD and Burkus discuss the retirement of Rick Nash’s number on The Cannon Cast.
This is one of my favorite recurring series, and it’s really unfair to the players. Props to those who nailed the right answer:
Tuesday: at Nashville
Thursday: at Dallas
Saturday: at Washington
Sunday: vs. San Jose
Another four-game week, this time with three on the road. Something to watch is that San Jose game starting at 6 pm, less than 24 hours after the start of the game in Washington.
Around the League
Brendan Lemieux went a bit overboard while fighting Brady Tkachuk:
Brendan Lemieux just BIT Brady Tkachuk TWICE. pic.twitter.com/mcLO3ojEMj— Everyday Sens (@EverydaySens) November 28, 2021
Tkachuk had some strong words about the incident. To get the full effect, listen to his statement as quoted by comedian Gilbert Gottfried:
Play me out
Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak have formed a supergroup called Silk Sonic, whose debut album features expertly constructed songs that harken back to 70s soul and funk. It’s so authentic that it features a cameo from Parliament-Funkadelic veteran Bootsy Collins. Most importantly, it’s a lot of fun and every hook is infectious. This track has my favorite groove on the album: