When reviewing the first month of the season, I pointed out that the Columbus Blue Jackets had been consistently inconsistent. They would follow up a good game with a bad one, and vice versa. Now that they have put up a three game win streak over the last week, however, things are looking much better. In fact, that streak has helped them match the best ten game start in franchise history.
The circumstances surrounding the two seasons could not be more different. The 2017-18 Blue Jackets were coming off a 108 point season and were looking to build on that. They were fully on board with the Tortorella system and they added star winger Artemi Panarin and rookie center Pierre-Luc Dubois. Even if some national observers thought the 2016-17 season was a fluke, it was clear that the team was looking to contend again.
This season, on the other hand, was supposed to be in the middle of a rebuild. There is a new coaching staff and many new faces in the locker room. A team that finished in the bottom five of the league last season was widely projected to finish near the bottom again.
How have the two starts been the same? The schedule is eerily similar: both featured six home games out of the first ten games. Both included five games against Western Conference teams, and just three Metro Division games in 2017 and four in 2021.
Side note: after facing the Capitals and Rangers this weekend, the Jackets will play just one more division opponent (the Caps again) before the end of the calendar year. That’s just seven division games out of the first 34 games on the schedule. Is it too bad that we’re not playing those important games while riding a hot streak? Or is it better to bank points against outside opponents now, before the schedule gets more difficult later? Might we be more comfortable in our scheme, and with better line chemistry in 2022 when we play more Metro games?
The goal production as the same: 32 goals for in each season. 2017 had three wins in overtime, while 2021 has three in overtime and one in a shootout. They had the same number of power play opportunities (28), but the 2021 edition has doubled the number of power play goals (six to three). That’s the obvious result of upgrading the coach from Brad Larsen to...uh...hmm. Moving on...
2017 produced more offensive opportunities (368 shots on goal vs. 296) and also allowed fewer chances (299 shots against vs. 348). There were five fewer goals allowed in 2017.
The 2017 team was more disciplined, collecting 20 fewer penalty minutes. They also only allowed three power play goals, vs. six allowed this year (though, to be fair, three of those game in a single game).
Looking at the underlying numbers, the 2017 team was exactly as good as their record indicated. They had 55.2% of the shot attempts and 56.0% of the unblocked shot attempts. The 2021 team is spending more time in their own zone, with just 48.3% and 47.3%, respectively. They’re winning more faceoffs, though! 53.2% this year vs. 43.6% four years ago.
Is this start — dare I say it — sustainable? Probably not! But it’s certainly a lot of fun. The players are clearly enjoying themselves as well, and each win helps them build confidence. They’re learning how to come back from behind, and how to hold on to a lead. These lessons will serve them well in future seasons as they (hopefully) grow into true contenders.
The injury bug
The picture isn’t completely rosy, however. Patrik Laine and Max Domi were both players who disappointed last season and were desperate for a bounceback season with free agency looming next summer. Each has performed very well so far, but both are currently on the shelf. Domi surprised everyone by rushing back from offseason shoulder surgery, then suffered a rib injury that put him on the IR for two weeks (again returning on the short end of the time frame). He was placed into the COVID protocol last Monday, which kept him isolated in New York and away from the team for the Colorado series. Laine suffered an oblique injury in the first Colorado game that will keep him in the press box for four-six weeks.
Emil Bemstrom suffered his own oblique injury shortly after making the final cut to start the season. Dean Kukan broke his wrist against Dallas and is out for six more weeks. Adam Boqvist has missed the last five games with an unspecified ailment, though he has been skating with the team in practice recently.
The injuries to Boqvist and Kukan have given us a lot more of Gabriel Carlsson and Scott Harrington than we hoped to see. At least Carlsson has played somewhat better than expected. Seattle Kraken Gavin Bayreuther has also gotten a chance to play on the second pair with Vladislav Gavrikov.
The injury to Domi opened up a spot in the top nine for Yegor Chinakhov, while the Laine injury moved him up to the top line. He looked good there on Saturday.
The week that was
Dalerrific analyzed the Blue Jackets’ power play and what makes it so successful this season.
JKinCLE wrote about the non-Monsters prospects. After that post, it was announced that defenseman Samuel Knazko is leaving his Finnish club to join the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL. That’s an upgrade from playing in the Finnish U20 league, and will get him acclimated to the North American game before joining the Monsters next season. Add Stanislav Svozil and Ole-Julian Bjorgvik Holm as well and the Cleveland blue line could be really strong in 2022-23.
Resident jersey aficionado BurkusCircus ranked the uniform matchups from October.
Friday vs. Washington
Saturday vs. NY Rangers
Monday vs. Detroit
A long week of practice awaits (days which were originally meant to be travel days returning from Finland) before the first back-to-back of the season. Then it’s a solid dose of Western Conference teams (and Buffalo) for the rest of the month.
Around the League
The NHL has been rocked by the release of a report detailing the sexual assault of prospect Kyle Beach by then-Chicago Blackhawks video coach Brad Aldrich, and the cover-up of the allegations by Blackhawks leadership. Beach told his own story in an interview with TSN. Chicago president and GM Stan Bowman resigned. Former Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville resigned as coach of the Florida Panthers, while Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, a former Blackhawks assistant GM, remains in his position. Cat Silverman wrote a powerful essay at Mile High Hockey about how we shouldn’t excuse bad behavior just because we had a positive perception of a figure like Quenneville before.
It’s much easier to admit that someone isn’t actually very nice when they do something wrong repeatedly, when they mistreat entire populations of people. But in hockey especially, we have a bad habit of marrying singular incidents we’ve been told of with our own history of considering this person good. When they only mistreat the lone player who blows the whistle on an organization? When they only gaslight one female reporter, or only use a racial slur against a single player in junior, or only verbally abuse one highly-ranked prospect? Time and time again, we see players and journalists and coaches and support staff rushing to marry the positive experiences they’ve had with that person with those transgressions, admitting that they’ve always seemed kind while chastising them for this specific incident. It’s not the person we’ve always understood them to be, we say, but we don’t support the behavior nonetheless. They mentored us so well, we insist, which is why we’re so disappointed that such a good person would do such a bad thing.
The problem with that mentality, though, is that it pits a victim against the people who this person has always treated well. What did they do, we wonder, that made this Very Nice Person decide they weren’t going to be nice this time? Why would they choose to be a Not Nice Person when they have always otherwise chosen the opposite? It’s a covert method of gaslighting, one that we do without even meaning to — but it’s a method of gaslighting, nonetheless.
Speaking of Quenneville, Litter Box Cats argues that the Panthers should receive compensation from the league and/or Chicago for Quenneville’s resignation. (Even without Coach Q, the Panthers are in first place and gave Carolina their first loss)
If that weren’t enough for Chicago, they also fired head coach Jeremy Colliton in the wake of their disappointing on-ice performance.
We also discussed the Chicago situation on last week’s Cannon Cast.
Play me out
Normally in this space I highlight music that I think is good. Today, I am going to go in the other direction and instead talk about songs that are popular despite being bad. I recently discovered this new YouTube series from Pat Finnerty called “What Makes This Song Stink.” It’s a highly entertaining combination of musical analysis and sketch comedy. Normally I’m not in the mood for performative hatred, but it’s clear that Finnerty isn’t here to troll; he genuinely loves good music and uses examples of bad (or lazy) choices to highlight aspects of music that he actually likes. An episode about the Weezer song “Beverly Hills” is becomes a touching look at how a fan copes with his favorite band failing to recapture the magic of their best records.
The latest episode is the Kravitz Bowl, pitting “Fly Away” vs. the cover of “American Woman.” I don’t know if I agree with the final conclusion, but I do accept that both songs do, in fact, stink.