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Reviewing January 2022: New year, same problems

Another roller coaster month, with more dips than peaks

Chicago Blackhawks v Columbus Blue Jackets Photo by Ben Jackson/NHLI via Getty Images

Previously: October, November, December

RESULTS

L 4-7 CAR
L 2-7 TBL
L 1-3 @ NJD
W 4-3 NJD
L 2-4 CHI
W 6-0 @ CAR
L 2-9 @ FLA
W 2-1 @ PHI
L 2-5 PIT
L 1-2 OTT
L 0-6 CGY
W 5-3 NYR
W 6-3 @ MTL
L 4-8 FLA

Well, that was rough. The new year started with four out of five games at home, and the Jackets got just a single win to show for it. New Year’s Day set the tone, with the Jackets blowing 4-0 lead to lose 7-4 to Carolina. They gave up seven goals in their next game, and that established a trend of crooked numbers on the scoreboard all month.

The low point was either a 9-2 loss at Florida or a 6-0 loss at home to Calgary, which saw the Jackets surrender a franchise-high (regular season, regulation game) 62 shots on goal.

The month was not without highlights, however. January saw the best all-around performance by Columbus all season, with an unlikely 6-0 shutout of Carolina in Raleigh.

STANDINGS

Despite that 4-9-0 record, the Jackets actually moved up one spot from last time, back into fifth in the Metro. They are a staggering 18 points behind fourth place Washington, with four games in hand. The Islanders are coming up fast, and lead the Jackets in points percentage, .487-.477.

With playoffs appearing well out of reach, perhaps its time to look ahead to the draft order. Columbus is ninth worst in points percentage. Chicago is eighth worst, so it’s looking like we’ll have two picks in the top ten, though both may be outside of the top five.

STATS

CBJ Stats through January 2022

Stat 2020-21 October November December January
Stat 2020-21 October November December January
5v5 CF% 46.51 (27th) 47.36 (25th) 49.47 (19th) 47.88 (23rd) 45.81 (27th)
5v5 FF% 47.03 (27th) 45.56 (31th) 49.35 (20th) 45.96 (27th) 44.72 (27th)
5v5 Save % 91.28 (22nd) 93.95 (8th) 88.92 (31th) 92.14 (15th) 88.86 (29th)
5v5 Shooting % 7.19 (30th) 7.02 (20th) 8.92 (10th) 10.85 (2nd) 9.39 (11th)
5v5 xGF% 46.09 (26th) 44.77 (30th) 50.61 (13th) 44.41 (28th) 41.94 (29th)
GPG 2.39 (29th) 2.75 (16th) 3.91 (3rd) 3.00 (14th) 2.93 (15th)
GAPG 3.29 (25th) 2.75 (12th) 3.36 (26th) 3.56 (23rd) 4.36 (31st)
PP% 15.4 (27th) 25.0 (9th) 19.4 (14th) 6.3 (32nd) 8.6 (32nd)
PK% 79.0 (20th) 77.8 (21th) 90.0 (4th) 58.8 (32nd) 83.0 (11th)

Still a lot of bad underlying numbers, like we saw in December. The power play is still trying to rediscover the early season magic, but at least the penalty kill rebounded in a big way from the previous month.

A 5v5 expected goal percentage of 41.94 isn’t a good sign, but if it’s any consolation that falls right between the Rangers and Blues, two teams on their way to the postseason.

THREE STARS

Honorable Mention: Boone Jenner

The captain is still on track for a career season, and added another six goals and four assists to his totals. He leads the team in goals and points for the season. He’s 12 goals, 10 assists, and 19 points from his career highs.

Third Star: Sean Kuraly

Speaking of career seasons, the homegrown center has tied his career high in goals (eight) and is just nine assists and seven points from his career bests. He had 3/3/6 in January, and was +1. He’s been more than just a fourth line grinder; he’s been one of the more consistent and reliable 200 foot forwards, and someone who can bring some energy with each shift.

The Jenner and Kuraly contracts looked like overpays in the summer and they may still be in the long run, but for now these players are working out very well.

Second Star: Patrik Laine

It’s been a difficult season for Patrik Laine, but he finally started to turn the corner in the last week of the month. He was tied with Jenner with 6/4/10 for the month, and six of those points came in the final three games, including consecutive two-goal games against Montreal and Florida. For the season, his line of 10/11/21 exactly matches his totals in Columbus last season...which came in 21 more games.

I’m still baffled by his lack of power play goals, however.

First Star: Gustav Nyquist

Big, big month for Gus. He led the team in goals, assists, and points (7/7/14). Even more impressive is how he did it: three goals at even strength, one on the power play, and three short-handed goals. He hadn’t been a regular penalty killer before coming to Columbus, and now he’s tied with Sasha Barkov for the league lead (four each, one ahead of Cam Atkinson).

With one more year remaining on his contract, and given that he is one of the alternate captains, Nyquist may not be interested in changing teams again. On the other hand, he may be willing to go to a contending team so he can chase a ring. He does not have trade protection so he can’t block a deal, but I feel like the team would include him in the process. Given his hot streak, his term, and his reasonable cap hit, he could bring in a first round pick and additional picks or prospects at the deadline next month (especially if we retain salary).

NEEDS IMPROVEMENT

Injuries

One reason for the struggles this month is the constant adjustments to the roster due to injury. Notable players who spent time on the COVID list include Zach Werenski, Jake Voracek, Oliver BJORKSTRAND, Cole Sillinger, Vladislav Gavrikov, and Adam Boqvist. Some key players will be missed through February, including Jake Bean (groin), Alexandre Texier (finger), and Eric Robinson (MCL).

Team Defense and Goaltending

I don’t have a problem with the actual defensemen, but rather my issue is with how all five skaters as a unit play defense. Too often players are out of position, or teams are able to skate their way between the forwards and defensemen. The result is way too many shots on goal. They allowed an average of 37 shots per game, with four games allowing 40 or more.

Elvis Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo each had a save percentage under .890. That’s simply not good enough. Elvis’s 4.64 GAA for January is completely unacceptable from someone who entered the season with Vezina ambitions.