Sustainable or Fleeting? The Blue Jacket Juggernaut

by Cam Robinson on January 13, 2017

Every season there is one team who comes from virtual obscurity to take the league by storm. These phenomena can last a month, a quarter season and in some cases, rage on for the entirety of the campaign.

 

We don’t need to tell you that the 2016-17 version of the Columbus Blue Jackets is that team.

 

Pegged as a likely bottom-feeder destined to find itself in the draft lottery once again, the John-Tortorella-coached team began the season as expected, by winning just two of their first six contests. Since that time however, they’ve accumulated a 26-5-3 record.

 

You didn’t misread that. They’ve been clicking along at a .808-point percentage since October 28th. That is the clear tops in the league over the span. How have they gotten to such a lofty position?

 

Three main reasons:

  1. They score a lot of goals.
  2. They allow very few.
  3. Their power play is ridiculously effective.

 

Let’s dig into these aspects and see if this team’s success and production is sustainable or fleeting.

 

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Raise your hand if it feels weird to say that the Columbus Blue Jackets are an offensive powerhouse? Yeeeah, that’s a lot of hands.

 

Well perhaps you better get used to it, because the way this team has been built and utilized appears to be set up to continue succeeding. The sheer balance of ice time and production throughout the lineup is a key ingredient to this success.

 

Here is a snapshot from their last game:

 

LINES FOR 2017-01-10

EVEN STRENGTH

     

FORWARDS

     

#1

16%

ANDERSON,JOSH – HARTNELL,SCOTT – KARLSSON,WILLIAM

#2

13.9%

DUBINSKY,BRANDON – FOLIGNO,NICK – JENNER,BOONE

#3

13.9%

ATKINSON,CAM – SAAD,BRANDON – WENNBERG,ALEXANDER

#4

12.1%

FOLIGNO,NICK – SAAD,BRANDON – WENNBERG,ALEXANDER

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That top nine is evenly spread. Only one regular sees under 10 minutes per night on average – Lukas Sedlak plays 9:25 a game, while the other 11 forwards are out there for 12-plus minutes a game and no single forward plays more than 18:30, as captain Nick Foligno, leads the way at 18:28.

 

The Blue Jackets have 15 skaters with at least 10 points, seven skaters with at least 20 points and five forwards with 30-plus points. To put that into perspective, damn near a third of league – nine teams, have yet to have a single forward eclipse the 30-point-barrier.

 

The team sits third in the league for both goals scored, with 145 and goals per game at 3.33. The ability to spread that type of production across four lines is tremendous and makes defending the waves that much more difficult.

 

Top 15 Point Categories

Rank

Name

Pos

Age

Yrs

Team

GR

GP

EV

PP

SH

Pts/G

TOI

PTS/60

Points

1

ATKINSON,CAM

R

27

3

CBJ

42

40

19

19

2

1.00

17:57

3.3

40

2

WENNBERG,ALEXANDER

C

22

0

CBJ

42

40

18

17

0

0.88

18:24

2.9

35

3

FOLIGNO,NICK

L

29

7

CBJ

42

38

19

16

0

0.92

18:28

3.0

35

4

SAAD,BRANDON

L

24

3

CBJ

42

40

32

2

0

0.85

17:23

2.9

34

5

GAGNER,SAM

C

27

7

CBJ

42

39

16

14

0

0.77

13:31

3.4

30

6

WERENSKI,ZACH

D

19

0

CBJ

42

40

10

15

0

0.63

21:12

1.8

25

7

HARTNELL,SCOTT

L

34

13

CBJ

42

40

22

2

0

0.60

12:25

2.9

24

8

JONES,SETH

D

22

0

CBJ

42

34

16

2

0

0.53

23:09

1.4

18

9

ANDERSON,JOSH

R

22

0

CBJ

42

40

16

0

0

0.40

12:13

2.0

16

10

DUBINSKY,BRANDON

C

30

8

CBJ

42

38

12

3

0

0.39

17:37

1.3

15

11

KARLSSON,WILLIAM

C

24

0

CBJ

42

40

12

1

1

0.35

14:05

1.5

14

12

JENNER,BOONE

C

23

1

CBJ

42

40

11

1

0

0.30

15:26

1.2

12

13

JOHNSON,JACK

D

29

8

CBJ

42

40

11

1

0

0.30

21:29

0.8

12

14

SAVARD,DAVID

D

26

3

CBJ

42

40

11

0

0

0.28

21:32

0.8

11

15

SEDLAK,LUKAS

C

23

0

CBJ

42

38

10

0

0

0.26

09:25

1.7

10

 

 

Can we expect Cam Atkinson, Nick Foligno, Alex Wennberg, Brandon Saad and Sam Gagner to continue to convert on over 14 percent of their shots? No, probably not, but even if they regress only slightly towards the mean, you can expect to see many more cannon shots at the Nationwide Arena.

 

Now how about that goals-against average?

 

Sergei Bobrovsky has been a man possessed so far this season. Out to prove his critics wrong and stave off what has become an annual injury bug, the former Vezina trophy winner dropped 17 pounds during the off-season and boy has the proof been in the pudding.

 

As a team, the Blue Jackets sit third in the league by averaging 2.23 goals against per contest all the while allowing 29.7 shots per game – which sits 11th best league wide. Bobrovsky’s .931 save percentage and the team’s .928 save percentage are right at the top of the pack and miles ahead of the league average of .914.

 

There is some room for negative regression here, and that will likely come with the ebbs and flow of a long season; however, Bobrovsky has shown in the past to be a dominant goaltender for long stretches and so long as he stays healthy, he should be relied upon to post above-average numbers.

 

Sergei Bobrovsky’s NHL Stats – Last 5 Years

SEASON

GP

Win

L

OTL

SO

GA

SHA

GAA

SV%

2016-2017

34

26

6

2

3

66

960

2.00

0.931

2015-2016

37

15

19

1

1

97

1049

2.75

0.908

2014-2015

51

30

17

3

2

134

1632

2.68

0.918

2013-2014

58

32

20

5

5

131

1699

2.38

0.923

2012-2013

38

21

11

6

4

74

1084

2.00

0.932

Average

44

25

15

3

3

100

1285

2.39

0.922

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, let’s take a gander at the league’s most potent power play…

 

Columbus has been terrific with the man-advantage. For a stretch during their recent 16(!)-game winning streak, it appeared as if they were scoring at will. Despite having the sixth fewest opportunities at five-on-four, CBJ has scored 31 goals on those 120 attempts – good for a 25.8 percent conversion rate. Tip tops in the league.

 

This is surely unlikely to last. In the last twenty years, only the Washington Capitals (three times) and the 2008-09 Red Wings have finished a season with a 25 percent or better rate (Stats courtesy Dimitri Filipovic). While they remain a very dangerous and well-organized unit, some regression here is very likely.

 

That organization we mentioned is something to marvel at all on its own. Each player appears perfectly positioned to succeed on their top unit. The modern-day hockey DH, Sam Gagner has been plying his trade in the bottom six and then stepping up and fitting like a glove with the big boys when the power play sets up. His 14 PPP’s are just one off a career-high.

 

We could ramble on and on about the expedited development of new top centre and former first round pick, Wennberg; the amazing bounce-back campaign for Foligno; the ridiculous production and confidence witnessed from teenaged and rookie defenseman, Zach Werenski and of course the top 10 production from Atkinson. These revelations have all been boosted by the efficient power play and have all contributed to its success.

 

At the end of the day, this may not be the best team in the league. They may not end up with the most power play markers or allow the fewest goals against, but here lies a team that has wildly surpassed expectations and has done so by utilizing the talent they have assembled in the most opportune ways and appear to be competing with the best in the world at a sustainable rate.

 

For those of you who have already loaded up on Blue Jackets, rest easy, the ride should continue to roll along for the foreseeable future.

 

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Thanks for reading and feel free to follow me on Twitter @CrazyJoeDavola3 where I often give unsolicited fantasy advice that I’m sure at least someone is listening to.