The Columbus Blue Jackets have been a stellar home team this season - the Blue Jackets are 9-3-0 in the friendly confines of Nationwide Arena, tied for the third most home wins in the Eastern Conference. These home victories, buoyed by the fans at their back, have helped keep the Blue Jackets on the edge of the playoff race.
Pulling the team back down to earth, however, is the team’s abysmal road record. The Blue Jackets are just 4-8-0 on the road this season, tied for the fewest road points in the division with the New Jersey Devils.
What is the cause for this? Is it just the struggles of a young team finding their way, or is there something deeper causing these road woes? Let’s dive in to the numbers and have a look.
When researching the disparity between home and away performances the following numbers jump out almost immediately:
The takeaway? The Blue Jackets are extremely slow starters on the road. The Blue Jackets have been outscored 33-17 in the first 40 minutes of road games, forcing them to dig out of holes early and often. In addition, the Blue Jackets have been outshot 429-347 on the road this season (a difference of 82 shots) as compared to the 402-365 difference at home. Not only is the team shooting less, they’re giving up more chances and allowing more of them into the net.
Unsurprisingly, the results follow - when getting outshot by opponents on the road, the Blue Jackets are 2-8-0. The team is winless on the road when trailing after the first period (0-4-0), showing just how critical it is that the team find a way to start quicker.
Matchups could be one determining factor - at home, the team has second change, and can shelter some of the younger / more offensive minded players - but that isn’t what we’re seeing.
Actual results on the ice do not favor the Blue Jackets, but when you dive into advanced metrics, the same trend appears. By expected goals, the teams generating a 48.5 xGF% at home but just a 44.19 xGF% on the road - not only are they getting scored on more on the road, they’re deservedly getting scored on. This isn’t just puck luck.
Interestingly, the team is managing a 48.39 CF% road while taking a slight dip to a 47.66 CF% at home. The story this seems to tell is that the team is taking more shot attempts on the road, but they are of worse quality and are getting saved, while at home the team has been able to capitalize on their scoring chances.
One other factor that could improve for the team on the road? The goaltending. At home, Elvis Merzlikins is 9-1 with a .935 save percentage and a 2.20 goals against average, an elite performance from the netminder. On the road, however, Elvis has just an .864 save percentage with a goals allowed of 4.87 per game with a 1-4 record - absolutely dismal and not good enough from an NHL netminder if extrapolated over an entire season.
Korpisalo, while better that Elvis on the road, has not been much better. Korpisalo is 3-2-0 with an .894 save percentage and a 3.75 GAA. At home, however, he has been downright dismal - an .852 save percentage and a 4.54 goals against average, going 0-2-0.
So, what can we learn from this? What are the fixes for a team that struggles to score on the road and struggles to keep the puck out of its own net at the same time?
Well, not much - the team is young, and these struggles were expected. The Blue Jackets are breaking in three new regulars on the defensive end (Jake Bean, Adam Boqvist, and Andrew Peeke), along with several new forwards (Cole Sillinger, Sean Kuraly, and Gustav Nyquist after missing a season).
What is difficult is there are no easy answers, no short term fixes - it would be nice if the goaltenders could play average on the road - not even good, just league average. That could help lead the team to more success, but it wouldn’t be enough unless the forwards start faster on the road than they have been thus far this season.
Fans expected a tough season, a rebuilding year, but at least the team has been winning on home ice in front of the fans. If the team hopes to make any sort of post season run, however unlikely, the team will need to find consistent performances on the road. What’s been going on so far won’t get it done.