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Reviewing December 2021: Cold snap

The Blue Jackets lost their momentum

Nashville Predators v Columbus Blue Jackets Photo by Emilee Chinn/NHLI via Getty Images

Previously: October, November

RESULTS

L 2-3 @ DAL
L 1-3 @ WSH
W 6-4 vs. SJS
L 4-5 @ TOR
L 1-2 (SO) vs. ANA
W 5-4 (OT) @ SEA
L 3-4 @ VAN
L 2-5 @ EDM
W 4-3 (SO) vs. NSH

For the first time this season, the Columbus Blue Jackets fell under .500 for a month. More frustrating than losing is the way they lost, blowing big leads against Seattle and Vancouver, and giving up goals in quick succession in Dallas, Toronto, Seattle, Vancouver, and Edmonton. (Not to mention the massive blown lead against Carolina to start January, which falls outside of the scope of this article)

A two week break due to a leaguewide COVID outbreak may have come at exactly the right time, as it allowed the team to have a physical and mental reset.

STANDINGS

Through January 2, the Blue Jackets had fallen to sixth in the Metropolitan Division, with two games in hand on fifth place Philadelphia. They are only three points out of a playoff position, though it’s hard to see teams like Pittsburgh and Boston falling off. At the end of November, the Jackets were on a 98.4 point pace. At this point they have fallen all the way down to an 84.7 point pace. Still better than many had expected before the season, but perhaps a more accurate representation of how good this team actually is.

STATS

CBJ stats through December 2021

Stat 2020-21 October November December
Stat 2020-21 October November December
5v5 CF% 46.51 (27th) 47.36 (25th) 49.47 (19th) 47.88 (23rd)
5v5 FF% 47.03 (27th) 45.56 (31th) 49.35 (20th) 45.96 (27th)
5v5 Save % 91.28 (22nd) 93.95 (8th) 88.92 (31th) 92.14 (15th)
5v5 Shooting % 7.19 (30th) 7.02 (20th) 8.92 (10th) 10.85 (2nd)
5v5 xGF% 46.09 (26th) 44.77 (30th) 50.61 (13th) 44.41 (28th)
GPG 2.39 (29th) 2.75 (16th) 3.91 (3rd) 3.00 (14th)
GAPG 3.29 (25th) 2.75 (12th) 3.36 (26th) 3.56 (23rd)
PP% 15.4 (27th) 25.0 (9th) 19.4 (14th) 6.3 (32nd)
PK% 79.0 (20th) 77.8 (21th) 90.0 (4th) 58.8 (32nd)

After an improved November, the Jackets are back to getting buried in their zone like they were in October. I want to see them work on getting more sustained offensive zone time. One silver lining is that when they do get offensive chances, they’re finishing pretty well; they have the second best shooting percentage of the month. They’re just not shooting enough.

I was surprised that the special teams numbers were that bad. It didn’t seem like they were ever the undoing, perhaps because the 5v5 play was bad as well. Patrik Laine was out for all but one game of the month, so one hopes that his return will help the power play regain its form from the start of the season. The penalty kill got burned by giving up multiple power play goals to the Leafs and Oilers.

THREE STARS

Third Star: Daniil Tarasov

After a non-COVID illness hit both Elvis Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo on arrival in Dallas, the Russian rookie Tarasov had to rush from Cleveland to make the start, then started again two nights later in Washington. He didn’t get a win, but his 2.22 GAA and .936 save percentage are a great start to his NHL career. It’s easy to see that he has a long future playing at this level. You can’t teach the size that he has (6’6”) but more importantly he shows poise and intuitive positioning beyond his 22 years.

Second Star: Adam Boqvist

Boqvist missed time in the middle of the month to a concussion, which is too bad because he was red hot prior to that. He ended up with two goals and two assists in six games over the whole month. He also led the team in 5v5 CF% and xGF%. His game is really rounding into form. He’s getting better away from the puck, but with the puck he already appears to be as skilled as Zach Werenski. That’s quite a weapon to have on the back end.

First Star: Alexandre Texier

He was a second star for November, and he was even better in December. He led the team in December in goals (four) and points (eight). The lines have been shuffled a bit due to injuries and he has remained productive no matter who his linemates are. He doesn’t have pressure to produce as if he were a top line center or top six winger, but instead has been able to take advantage of scoring opportunities from a checking line role. He’s currently on pace to have a 50 point season. It’s been great to see him finally get his game together, and remember: he’s still just 22.

NEEDS IMPROVEMENT

Elvis Merzlikins

The 3-3-1 record doesn’t look terrible, but the 3.85 GAA and .888 save percentage sure do. I’m not worried about him yet, and I do think he needs help from the skaters in front of him, but the fact is he needs to be better than this. Right now the team goes as Elvis does, and that’s not fair. He’s not currently bailing the team out if they only score 2 goals, but we’ve also seen him fail to protect a lead when the Jackets are scoring 4. That’s a problem.

Coaching

The honeymoon is over for Brad Larsen. The team is struggling to defend effectively, and that speaks to the defensive scheme. Talented (if raw) young forwards like Yegor Chinakhov and Emil Bemstrom have spent multiple games in a row in the press box. The team consistently blows leads, and gives up goals in quick succession. That speaks to a lack of focus by the players. A young roster like this with a lot of new pieces is going to have growing pains, sure. Even so, I want to see incremental progress as the season goes on. If they make mistakes, I want to see them learn from those mistakes. Instead, this team seems to be repeating those mistakes. We’re seeing regression rather than improvement.

There’s still time to turn this around, so we better not be having these issues in March and April.