Game #65 Recap: The Season is Over

Not really, but it’s dangerously close

I really don’t want to write this recap. It’s been a long day and I’d rather just go to sleep. I had a few tall craft beers at the game. I had to wait in the cold weather for 20 minutes for my Lyft driver to show up (with a partnership between the Blue Jackets and Lyft this season, you’d think they’d have more cars in the area after a game. Or maybe it was just traffic from The Arnold slowing the cars on their way to Front Street). But mostly I hate having to write about the Blue Jackets losing. I can’t fall back on my usual “oh, it was just one game. They’ll do better next time.”

The harsh reality: Columbus is rapidly running out of “next times.” The only consistent thing about the Blue Jackets is their inconsistency. How can the team which outscored opponents in 7-0 in an international back-to-back last weekend get run out of their building 9-2 in a back-to-back this weekend?

The Jackets are 17-16-2 at home this season. That is so unfair to the fans! I haven’t been able to get to as many games as I usually do this season, but so far I’m 1-3. That one win came against Philadelphia way back in October. Even worse is that the losses weren’t close, exciting ones. They featured long stretches of uninspired hockey from the home team.

Yes, let’s look forward to those road games. I guess I have to hope for experience this season’s triumphs through the TV screen alone. I am DREADING attending the Pittsburgh game on Saturday. The arena will be at least half filled with disgusting Yinzers and their team will kick ass, and I will leave in a bad mood again.

Oh, I guess  you want to know what happened in the game

I was complaining to my friend that Foligno shouldn’t be on the first power play unit, then he managed to do this:

Touche, captain.

The second Blue Jackets goal - again to tie the game  - was a beautiful bomb from Amy Jones’ son Seth. My favorite part? The return of the Wennberg Leap, which we saw a lot last year once the power play got going again.

Wennberg Freed!

I was very happy when I watched the pregame presser and Torts confirmed that Alexander Wennberg would finally return to the lineup, after missing all five games since Matt Duchene’s arrival. I thought he looked OK, but it will help if he gets more regular playing time and more consistent linemates. Blending hurts him a lot. Look at this trend over the last three seasons, per Hockey Viz:

Do you see the same trend that I do? In Wennberg’s best season, he could rely on having Brandon Saad and Nick Foligno on his wings every game. They developed chemistry, and they were productive. Last year, Wennberg’s production went down but his underlying numbers were still OK. You can see that his best periods of possession stats were in the stretches where he had a steady line for a stretch of games. Even the line with Panarin and Atkinson at the beginning of the season wasn’t as bad as everyone thought. Had Torts been patient, that line could have started scoring goals eventually.

There has been little consistency this year. The most common linemate is Anthony Duclair, and he’s gone now. In tonight’s game, there was no consistency either. That brings us to...

It seems that coaching is holding this team back

There is no excuse for being 2-3 on a homestand after making the biggest acquisitions of the trade deadline. This is like watching Torts receiving a brand new sports car, and driving it in the left lane at 45 miles per hour with the parking brake on.

He has the most talented roster of the season, and they don’t look at all like it:

Look at this (again from HockeyViz):

He’s clearly throwing crap at the wall and seeing what sticks. Of course you don’t want to keep using a line that clearly isn’t working, but you also have to trust your instincts and/or your reasoning for putting the line together in the first place. Look at the numbers and figure out four lines that work. Give them all 3-5 games to figure each other out. Giving up on lines after one period reeks of desperation.

Torts overreacts to the results on the ice rather than the underlying play. So it would be easier for him to keep things static were the lines producing goals. But they’re not. That brings us to

The stars have to show up

We can shuffle players in and out of the bottom 6 all we want, but that’s not going to be the difference between winning and losing if the top lines aren’t scoring. Since the trade deadline passed, the Blue Jackets have played four games. All at home. In that span, just seven skaters have multiple points. Three of the four are defensemen, one of whom is Scott Harrington. That’s not good!

Josh Anderson, Boone Jenner, Matt Duchene, Pierre-Luc Dubois: each has just one assist in that four game span.

And what about Ryan Dzingel? He does have two assists, but to me he has seemed invisible. I go long stretches without seeing him on the ice. One explanation? He’s averaging just 12:53 of ice time per game. Anthony Duclair averaged 12:19 this season for Columbus. Considering the TWO second round picks we sent to Ottawa along with Duclair, shouldn’t we be playing Dzingel more than Duclair? Will he want to re-sign here if he’s stuck playing third line minutes? Or is he only as good as a third line player when he isn’t playing with Matt Duchene and Bobby Ryan?

What about Bob?

Not terrible, but whether it’s fair or not, Sergei Bobrovsky has to be good enough to bail out the team when they are struggling and that Bob hasn’t shown up this season. The first three goals were long range shots through traffic that got deflected. Bob didn’t stand a chance on any of them. The fourth goal - which sent at least half of the 16,091 to the exits with 2:13 remaining - was 10-ply soft.

This whole article at NBC Sports is accurate and depressing, but especially this passage:

It’s silly to say Columbus isn’t trying, or to throw Panarin under the bus, but one legitimate worry – beyond the Blue Jackets’ place in the standings – is the play of Sergei Bobrovsky.

He allowed four goals in each of the past two games, even though Bob only played in two of three periods on Saturday. After generating back-to-back shutouts heading into the trade deadline, Bobrovsky’s allowed an ugly 15 goals in his last four appearances.

Whether it’s a coincidence, Bobrovsky faltering in a clutch, almost playoff-like situation once again, or this being a matter of an unhappy goalie who wanted out of Columbus, the Blue Jackets must think long and hard about how much they should count on Bobrovsky instead of, say, Joonas Korpisalo or Keith Kinkaid down the stretch.

Because, frankly, they can’t really survive many more weekends – or even days – like these.

To take it back to Torts, why was Bob playing tonight? Sure, he got pulled early Saturday, but it’s still the third start in four days. He has started seven straight. Joonas Korpisalo last started two weeks ago against Tampa Bay. You have Korpi and Keith Kinkaid on the roster - why not play them and give Bob some chances to rest? More importantly, it’s increasingly certain that Bob will not be here next season. Korpi will be, and he needs the game action to improve. Torts admitted as much early in the season, when he was playing Korpi nearly as much as Bob. It’s not clear to me that Bob is giving the team any better chance of winning than Korpi could. We’re not winning through goaltending; we’re winning in spite of it. The wins come through great offense and good enough defense.

Note: great offense does not look like this heat chart from Natural Stat Trick. Shot attempts are good, but ones near the crease have a better chance of going in, boys:

What’s next?

Road games Tuesday and Thursday against New Jersey and Pittsburgh, respectively, before returning to Nationwide on Saturday for the final game of the season against the Penguins. Those two games will be critically important in keeping pace in the playoff race. I’ve rolled my eyes at each comment in the game previews about it being a “must win” game because it seems that we’ve said that about every game for at least the last month. But now, with just 17 games remaining and the margin for error razor thin, every game gets more and more important. None are a MUST win yet, but this team needs to win at least 10 of those games to have a chance at the playoffs. And even that may only be enough to get a chance to lose to Tampa in the first round.

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