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Reviewing March 2022: In like a lamb, out like a lamb

Running out of steam

Columbus Blue Jackets v New York Islanders Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images

Previously: October, November, December, January, February

RESULTS

W 4-3 vs. NJD
L 3-4 (OT) vs. LAK
L 4-5 (SO) vs. BOS
L 4-5 vs. TOR
L 0-6 @ NYI
W 3-2 (SO) vs. MIN
W 6-4 vs. VGK
W 4-1 @ OTT
L 2-7 vs. WSH
W 5-4 vs. STL
L 1-5 @ PIT
L 3-4 (OT) @ WPG
L 2-3 (OT) @ MIN
L 3-4 vs. NYI
L 2-5 @ NYI

That 4-1 stretch in the middle was fun, but uhhhhhhhhhhhhhh...yikes. The early March losing streak is a bit deceptive, since you had three hard-fought close games against playoff teams (against the Islanders they had nothing left in the tank). The month ended with a five game losing streak, and while the Blue Jackets battled in each one for at least a period, putting it all together for 60 minutes proved impossible.

STANDINGS

After sitting in that ninth spot in the East seemingly forever, two consecutive losses to the Islanders mean they’re now tied at 69 points (nice) and the Islanders pass the Jackets on points percentage, with two games in hand. Both teams are well out of playoff contention already; they are 15 points behind Washington, who are themselves 14 points behind first place Carolina.

Chicago watch: The Blackhawks have dropped a place from last month, from eighth to seventh worst. They’re a point behind Buffalo!

STATS

CBJ Stats through March 2022

Stat March February January December November October 2020-21
Stat March February January December November October 2020-21
5v5 CF% 47.42 (24th) 47.17 (25th) 45.81 (27th) 47.88 (23rd) 49.47 (19th) 47.36 (25th) 46.51 (27th)
5v5 FF% 46.68 (24th) 47.95 (22nd) 44.72 (27th) 45.96 (27th) 49.35 (20th) 45.56 (31th) 47.03 (27th)
5v5 Save % 90.77 (29th) 91.28 (20th) 88.86 (29th) 92.14 (15th) 88.92 (31th) 93.95 (8th) 91.28 (22nd)
5v5 Shooting % 9.14 (4th) 10.85 (6th) 9.39 (11th) 10.85 (2nd) 8.92 (10th) 7.02 (20th) 7.19 (30th)
5v5 xGF% 45.19 (30th) 46.83 (24th) 41.94 (29th) 44.41 (28th) 50.61 (13th) 44.77 (30th) 46.09 (26th)
GPG 3.00 (18th) 3.90 (8th) 2.93 (15th) 3.00 (14th) 3.91 (3rd) 2.75 (16th) 2.39 (29th)
GAPG 4.07 (31st) 3.40 (20th) 4.36 (31st) 3.56 (23rd) 3.36 (26th) 2.75 (12th) 3.29 (25th)
PP% 23.4 (16th) 26.1 (6th) 8.6 (32nd) 6.3 (32nd) 19.4 (14th) 25.0 (9th) 15.4 (27th)
PK% 65.1 (30th) 85.7 (9th) 83.0 (11th) 58.8 (32nd) 90.0 (4th) 77.8 (21th) 79.0 (20th)

Passersby were amazed by the unusually large amounts of blood. Passersby were amazed by the unusually large amounts of blood. Passersby were amazed by the unusually large amounts of blood. Passersby were amazed by the unusually large amounts of blood. Passersby were amazed by the unusually large amounts of blood. Passersby were amazed by the unusually large amounts of blood. Passersby were amazed by the unusually large amounts of blood.

A defense raised to the level of “mediocre” in February was regrettably short-lived. Missing Boone Jenner for nine of the games and Zach Werenski for three certainly have had an impact.

THREE STARS

Honorable Mention: Emil Bemstrom

Bemstrom has had such a tough go of it so far in his still-young NHL career. The first year was interrupted by injuries, and just when he was healthy and starting to get a feel for it, the season was shut down for the pandemic. Last season featured more injuries and time stuck on the taxi squad. This season has had more fits and starts, but Bemmer has finally gotten regular playing time (13 games, if only for an average of 9:23 per game) and he’s starting to get comfortable and starting to make an impact. His goal last night was his fourth point in the last six games (2G, 2A). The underlying numbers tell an even better story. Among CBJ skaters for the month, at 5v5, he is second in CF% (55.61), first in FF% (57.53), second in GF% (71.43), and first in xGF% (62.94). It’s not like he’s been sheltered; he has had slightly more defensive zone than offensive zone starts. He’s a bottom six player, but his line is not a liability when he’s on the ice.

Third Star: “Old” Guys

Jakub Voracek and Gustav Nyquist were born just 17 days apart in 1989. They are 3.5 years older than the next closest Jackets skater (Sean Kuraly). And yet, they are two of the most productive Jackets this season. In March, Voracek had 3/8/11 in 14 games and Nyquist had 3/6/9 in 15. Both had an even split of even strength and power play points. They excel at setting up their teammates, but Voracek became more of a goal scorer this month, more than doubling his season total in goals (he had two goals through the first five months).

Second Star: BJORKSTRAND

Oliver BJORKSTRAND has put up points all season, but it was in a more quiet fashion, and his underlying numbers suggested that he was unlucky, and was due for even more points. Well, he has caught fire in March, with seven goals and seven assists. But his line is still unlucky, with 52.81 xGF% vs. 47.37 GF%.

First Star: Patrik Laine

Ho hum, just another month with Laine being ridiculous. Now, he’s not as hot as when he scored 21 points in an 11 game point streak, but I think we’d all agree that a point per game pace is still good? He had 6/19/15 in March. For the season he has 51 points in 49 games, and those points are evenly split at 25 goals and 26 assists. He shoots a ton and puts the puck in the net, but can also set up his teammates when necessary.

He leads the team with seven game-winning goals. Next closest? Rookie Cole Sillinger with three.

NEEDS IMPROVEMENT

Injuries

There have been injuries all season, but losing two team leaders in Jenner and Werenski is a massive blow on and off the ice. Adam Boqvist missed all but three games in March with an upper body injury, which took away a major offensive weapon from the back end. Voracek missed a game after suffering a dirty hit from Marcus Foligno, and we’re lucky it was only one game.

Then in goal, Elvis Merzlikins missed a game and a half with back spasms, which may have impact the team’s trade deadline strategy. Shortly after, Joonas Korpisalo hit the IR with a season-ending hip injury which will require surgery. He is said to have struggled with it for a while, and you’d have to think that contributed to his subpar performances.

Finally, even the coaches are not immune, with head coach Brad Larsen and assistant coach Steve McCarthy testing positive for COVID.

Trade deadline

Max Domi had eight points (all assists) in ten games in March, and was +3, and yet could only fetch a third round defensive prospect at the deadline. The market wasn’t looking for wingers who can’t shoot or play defense, but it’s still an underwhelming return.

Korpisalo was likely untradeable due to his poor play and his injury. Dean Kukan was the other pending UFA, but the market was so saturated with defensemen that there were no takers left for him.

As for “weaponizing the cap space” as Jarmo Kekalainen has spoken about for the last two years? Still have yet to see that put into action. He retained salary in the Domi deal but didn’t get anything extra for it, like he did on the Foligno and Savard trades at last year’s deadline.

Defense

This is the biggest need for improvement. It’s not just the blue line but as a team the play in the defensive zone (and neutral zone) must be better. Frankly, it can’t get much worse. There’s a limit to how good the goalies can be when they’re constantly left exposed. As the young roster gains experience, their defensive play could improve. A new defensive coach should be considered as well. Maybe there’s one more forward or defenseman with defensive ability that could be added in the offseason?