March 30, 2017, 2:44 PM ET [1 Comments]
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It’s been no secret that the Blue Jackets have struggled in their last 10 games. The team has gone 7-2-1 but have been a bottom five in Corsi sitting at 46.64%, per Natural Stat Trick. The four teams below them are Winnipeg, Edmonton, Vancouver and Arizona, two of the worst teams in the league, a non-playoff team and a team that’s carried by Connor McDavid.
The Jackets have kept pace with Washington over this stretch due to a .935 save percentage in all situations, including a .951 at 5 on 5. Ending a season hot doesn’t always lead to playoff success but the past two Cup winners Pittsburgh and Chicago both ended the season in the top five for Corsi over their last 10 games. The Jackets have seven games left to turn things around but it will not be easy, they have a tough schedule ahead. What has to happen for them to turn things around? Well to start lets first identify where the problems are.
Stats from Natural Stat Trick.
That graph shows each players Corsi percentage relative to 50%. Oliver Bjorkstrand, Sam Gagner, Zach Werenski and Brandon Saad are the only players to be above 50% in their last 10 games. This explains why the teams overall numbers have been so poor.
With 16 players less than 50% there is plenty of blame to go around. What stands out here is that the depth players appear to be struggling the most. This was a real strength for the Jackets in the early going that has disappeared. Matt Calvert and Lukas Sedlak have both been under 40% in their last 10 games and you have to wonder if they are still dealing with some rust or lingering effects from their injuries.
Calvert in 51 games pre injury was at 46.24% and in the eight games since returning he's at 38.67%. Sedlak’s dip has been even more profound. In 55 games pre-injury he was one of the best possession players on the Jackets with a 53.19% Corsi, which ranked second on the team behind Brandon Saad among players who have played at least 10 games. In the five games since returning Sedlak is down at 39.53%. It’s not a large sample obviously but this is a trend worth monitoring as the season winds down. The Jackets don’t have the top end talent to compete with a Pittsburgh or a Washington in the playoffs; they need their bottom six players to be playing at high level, to help overcome the lack of star power.
It’s not just forwards that deserve the blame here, the defencemen have not been good either. Jack Johnson and David Savard who have been very good this season as a shutdown pair have resorted back to their pre-2016-17 ways. They need to rebound because again you put these two up against a Sidney Crosby or an Alexander Ovechkin with the way they are playing right now, it will not go well.
The third pair needs to be much better. Kyle Quincey has been playing regularly with Ryan Murray out, but he has not had a regular partner as both Scott Harrington and Markus Nutivaara have cycled through. The Harrington-Quincey pair just hasn’t worked and it doesn’t make much sense at this point to scratch Nutivaara. Nutivaara hasn’t been that good, but he's been competent and at least has some puck moving ability. He’s been much better than Harrington this season.
Depth has been a strength of this year’s Blue Jackets team. They have been able roll four skilled lines, which gave other teams fits and made them difficult to match up against. They were built to be able to handle the peaks and valleys in player performance as they always seemed to have at least one line going. Now with all four lines having slowed, the team has played poorly. Sergei Bobrovksy has bailed them out, but come playoff time he will need help. The Jackets need players like Lukas Sedlak and Matt Calvert to get back to playing at the level they were pre-injury. That would give the Jackets that depth advantage they sorely lack right now.