Has John Tortorella actually improved Columbus Blue Jackets? (What We Learned)

Columbus Blue Jackets new head coach John Tortorella,top, joins players watching a replay on a goal by Minnesota Wild's Zach Parise against Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, of Russia, in the first period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015, in St. Paul, Minn. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

(Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.)

It's hard to argue with the results.

Columbus started the year 0-7, and fired Todd Richards. Now they're 8-7 under John Tortorella, but also 6-4 in their last 10. This is a team that, at long last, appears to be moving in the right direction.

Like all Tortorella-coached teams that have any amount of success (sorry, 2013-14 Canucks), people seem to be fixating on the coach's defense-heavy, shot-blocking demands of his players as the thing that leads to all the winning. And it's impossible to say that Columbus isn't collectively getting in the way of more shots per game than they were before. In fact, the number of shots they're blocking every night has increased more than 38 percent (from 10.4 under Richards to 14.4 under Tortorella).

But here's the thing: It's easier to block more shots when you're also giving up more shots. And is that what Columbus is doing? Of course it is.

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Once you adjust possession numbers for the various score effects involved, Columbus goes from a slightly-below-even possession team (49.7 percent) to a dreadful one (46.6 percent). (Ed. Note: These stats do not include Sunday night's loss to San Jose.) The latter number is the third-worst score-adjusted number in the league since Richards' last game behind the bench, ahead of only Ottawa and Florida.

The positive thing you can say about the Blue Jackets under Tortorella is that they're allowing fewer high-quality chances per 60 minutes (a 13.3 percent drop) and getting more of them (23 percent improvement), which is obviously going to be quite conducive to winning more than you lose. But otherwise, there seem to be a lot of cracks in the system that should give everyone pause as to the whole “Columbus has improved immensely under Tortorella” thing.

There's no question, for example, that they play a more muted style of hockey, which isn't necessarily good or bad but is certainly not as fun to watch or, presumably, play (no one has ever accused Torts Hockey of being boring or injurious, right?). And that comes almost across the board, with scoring chances, shot attempts, unblocked attempts, and goalscoring all taking at least some step back on a per-60 basis.

That “unblocked attempts” one is interesting too. You'd think a team like Tortorella's that blocks almost 40 percent more shots per game than it used to would, if it reduced shot attempts against per 60, likely see fewer unblocked attempts getting through as well; simply because the team would, theoretically at least, be getting better at controlling shot quality. But interestingly, the number of unblocked attempts they concede per 60 has actually ticked up under Tortorella, albeit very slightly (by 0.1).

Jackets
Jackets

Indeed, despite the apparent effort to get in front of more shots, they haven't taken a huge step forward in this regard. Before they were blocking about 1 in every 4.5 shot attempts per 60 minutes. Now it's 1 in every 3.9. That's an increase to 25.9 percent of attempts from the previous 22.2 percent. It's hard to be impressed with that number, or at least to say, “Well, this is why Columbus is winning.”

However, if you actually look at what Sergei Bobrovsky and to a lesser extent Curtis McElhinney are facing in their day-to-day work under both coaches, you have to say that the Tortorella-coached Jackets are much better at keeping things to the outside. That's obviously a positive, but it also helps to inflate shots-blocked numbers pretty convincingly.

So that's going to help your team's save percentage at 5-on-5 for sure. In fact, Bobrovsky's quality-adjusted save percentage under Tortorella is .929, up from an abysmal .835 under Richards. That's an improvement that can't be explained by simply looking at opponent shot quality. And here's the big, crazy magic number that explains why Bobrovsky suddenly looks like an elite goaltender again: his career quality-adjusted save percentage prior to this year was .926.

So these last 14 games are .003 better than the number Bobrovsky posted in the 229 career games previous to this season. The seven games under Richards were .091 worse. It's almost like the Bobrovsky rebound was inevitable, irrespective of how many guys are jumping in front of shots for their new coach. Hmm, strange.

There's also the fact that the team's shooting percentage has improved by more than two-thirds under Tortorella (49. percent to 8.2 percent). And while they are getting an extra two high-quality chances per 60, unless those are both 3-on-0s from the top line, that really doesn't explain the huge jump in percentages either.

And again, I don't want to shock anyone here, but do you want to take a guess at Columbus's 5-on-5 shooting percentage from 2013-15 under Richards? Yeah, it was 8.1 percent, which you'll note is very close to the 8.2 percent they're currently shooting under Tortorella.

And okay, maybe you say that Tortorella has also improved the team's play with the man advantage and on the PK. Well the splits work out like this: The power play was 6 for 29 under Richards (20.7 percent) and is 9 for 45 under Tortorella (20 percent). The PK was 14 of 21 in the first seven games (a brutal 66.7 percent) and has allowed 7 in 52 tries since (86.5 percent).

And gee whiz, folks, would you believe it's not because they're allowing that much fewer high-quality attempts — a drop of about 2 per 60 minutes of PK time — or blocking significantly more shots — 1.5 more per 60 — than they were before.

The term “dead cat bounce” gets used a lot after coach firings, and this is basically a perfect test case for why. Columbus was dreadful under Richards to start the year, for a number of reasons. It's hard to argue he shouldn't have been fired, mostly because he made the playoffs once in five years and never once finished higher than fourth in the division. In fact, lots of the wins they racked up were coming after the team got done with starts like this and were trying to fight their way out of a huge hole.

But at the same time, you could easily point to those awful percentages they posted under him (a PDO of 90.9!) and say, “Well, this isn't going to last.”

And hey look at that, it didn't. Because it couldn't.

So now Tortorella looks like a genius and a miracle worker, when all he had to do was ride out the storm. There's a non-zero chance he wins the Jack Adams because of it.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: Oh, here's a bad idea right here.

Arizona Coyotes: Shane Doan is still one of the dirtiest players in hockey. If Zac Rinaldo did this — and please play into the fantasy that Rinaldo would ever have a semi-breakaway — he'd be suspended for a month.

Boston Bruins: Tuukka Rask is still good, baby. All he has to do is play the Leafs a few dozen more times this year to get that save percentage up to a respectable number again.

Buffalo Sabres: To be fair to the Sabres, they played the frickin' Stars, so yeah you're not gonna look too good in that one.

Calgary Flames: They've won two in a row at home, and two of their last three wins weren't even in regulation, so now they're Really Good again. Got it.

Carolina Hurricanes: Carolina should soon begin discussions with Eric Staal on an extension. And if not, it's trade market time.

Chicago: What could possibly go wrong with this?

Colorado Avalanche: So much to love here.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Hey since Nov. 18, Jared Boll, Cody Goloubef, and Fedor Tyutin have all gotten hurt. Weird how this kind of thing seems to follow Tortorella around, isn't it?

Dallas Stars: Quietly? He led the league in scoring last year and hasn't scored fewer than 56 points in a full season since he was a rookie.

Detroit Red Wings: This kid is unreal. A true pleasure to watch.

Edmonton Oilers: Speaking of a pleasure to watch: Taylor Hall and Leon Draisaitl are that thing. Hall has 19 points in his last 12 games, Draisaitl has 17 in 10. Oh and Connor McDavid is still hurt, so when he comes back a lot of goalies are going to be very upset.

Florida Panthers: Jagr is a beautiful angel. How lucky we are to watch him.

Los Angeles Kings: Y'know despite that Terrible Slow Start, the Kings have two regulation losses in seven road games this year. That seems good.

Minnesota Wild: The Wild's game against Nashville on Saturday was a fun one to watch, unless you're a Preds fan in which case not so much.

Montreal Canadiens: Through 20 games the Habs were second in goals scored and third in goals allowed, so that kind of makes you think they might just be pretty good.

Nashville Predators: Hope Colin Wilson had a warranty.

New Jersey Devils: This is a terribly nice story.

New York Islanders: Not the best goal to allow bright and early in the game.

New York Rangers: Henrik Lundqvist doesn't seem happy that the team's game plan most nights is, “Lundqvist will save us.” But he usually does it anyway.

Ottawa Senators: Craig Anderson is stewin' on two straight shutouts in which he made a combined 61 saves. And that's actually down from his season average on shots per game (33.9)

Philadelphia Flyers: Likewise, the Flyers have been shut out in two straight games. It's because they're bad and the whole team is bad.

Pittsburgh Penguins: I hope Crosby starts scoring again just so stories like this go away.

San Jose Sharks: A nice kiss from the sport of hockey to Patrick Marleau, who now has 1,000 career points and is perhaps one of the 20 best forwards of the shootout era who never gets any kind of credit for being so. In the last decade he's 15th in points and tied for fourth in goals. He's just good. Sorry everyone.

St. Louis Blues: The Blues want to increase youth hockey enrollment in the region by 70 percent in the next four years or so. That's ambitious.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Some kinda accidental save by Ben Bishop.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Lou Lamoriello is toeing the company line that Nazem Kadri has been the Leafs' best forward to this point. Hmm yes maybe he is just good and Randy Carlyle was misusing him dramatically

Vancouver Canucks: Saturday night was Vintage Sedins against Chicago. Hat trick and an assist for Daniel, a goal and four assists for Henrik. They are a delight.

Washington Capitals: The Caps are this week's Team That Got To Whale On Colorado. Congrats for your schedule win.

Winnipeg Jets: Real catchy headline here.

Play of the Weekend

This is, like, so effortlessly masterful from Tarasenko that you almost can't believe it. How does he make that kind of space for himself cutting across the ice on a 2-on-2?

Gold Star Award

New York Rangers forward Rick Nash (61) is congratulated by teammates after scoring a goal against the Florida Panthers during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Joel Auerbach)
New York Rangers forward Rick Nash (61) is congratulated by teammates after scoring a goal against the Florida Panthers during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Joel Auerbach)

Rick Nash, you had a hat trick because you are good.

Minus of the Weekend

I could watch this one billion times. Orlov didn't even do anything special to create that opportunity on the far side; the puck just landed at his feet.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User “zcaptain” is off the rails.

Faulk, Hanifin, 2016-1st, 2017-2nd for McDavid and 2017-1st

Signoff

Now who's laughing? Now who's laughing?

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

(All stats via War On Ice unless otherwise noted.)

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