As a general rule of thumb, you don't want to start your season 0-4 by being outscored 20-9.
It's just not a good look.
One struggles to imagine a club getting off to a worse start than that, even in the context of being historically bad. Last year, for example, the Buffalo Sabres started 1-3, outscored 17-7. And even the Columbus Blue Jackets' last-place finish in 2011-12 only saw them start 0-3-1 with scoring of 12-8. That latter team, of course, lost its first eight games, and so far that doesn't seem like it's an untouchable result for this shambolic club.
But here's the thing: Much like the Oilers last year, this year’s Blue Jackets aren’t a club that's playing badly, so much as one that has unbelievably rotten luck at 5-on-5. Score-adjusted possession of 52.7 percent puts them eighth in the league. They're actually dominating in high-quality scoring chances (54.1 percent), all scoring chances (53.8 percent), and are still somehow above-water in terms of shots on goal as well (50.7 percent).
In addition, their power play has been incredible, scoring nearly 30 percent of the time.
So, y'know, not to pin everything on Sergei Bobrovsky and the defense or anything, but this is almost entirely Sergei Bobrovsky and the defense's fault.
Now, the club has allowed five power-play goals, but with the exception of one (a point shot), they've all come in exactly the area from which you'd expect to see a power play goal get scored, right around the crease, in the low slot, etc. Can't pin too much of that on Bobrovsky, and a team penalty kill percentage of 64.3 percent just isn't going to allow you to stay competitive.
With that having been said, though, Bobrovsky has done himself approximately zero favors in allowing the types of goals he has at 5-on-5. Here's a chart of all the shots on goal he's faced in his four games, with goals obviously noted as sirens. You can see that many are from high-percentage areas, but others are from bad angles and long distances, and most of those should be stopped.
However, even that doesn't tell the full story, simply because the Blue Jackets have — predictably, given the personnel — been awful in their own zone.
If you go back and watch the goals, you see that of the 14 full-strength goals Bobrovsky allowed, six have been the result of turnovers, three each were from losing battles or blown assignments, one was an odd-man rush, and one was that brutal goal from the low right corner. Some of these were shots that Bobrovsky should have had, but by my very subjective measure, I count eight as being of “high” or “very high” quality, five more as being “medium” quality, and that last one as “very low” quality.
And often, the direct culprit in those goals has been Fedor Tyutin and Dalton Prout. Jack Johnson has been on the ice for four goals against, Prout, Tyutin, David Savard, and Kevin Connauton for three each, and finally Ryan Murray for “just” two. None have been on the ice for more than one goal for in four games.
So yes, these are high-quality chances that are ending up in the back of the net, but Columbus has actually been far better than most at keeping things to the outside. They're allowing just 9.9 shot attempts from high-percentage areas per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 time. The problem is that almost half of them (4.7) are ending up past either Bobrovsky or Curtis McElhinney (who has conceded once on seven shots in all situations).
To that end you have to say that Bobrovsky isn't, like, totally at fault here. He's given up some goals he'd like back, but often they're the third or fourth of the night, and that follows the defense just getting flat-out beat or embarrassing themselves in their own zone. Bobrovsky is now talking about how he has no confidence in himself, but it's really the guys in front of him he should be worried about. Not that anyone should be surprised by this. Any NHL-level D corps led by Jack Johnson is not one that should inspire much confidence.
The question becomes one of how much of this lands at the feet of Todd Richards (i.e. what's enough to get him fired). But from watching the games and looking at the numbers, this feels very much like one of those things where the results are not at all following process, and so what is he supposed to do? “Hey Sergei, listen, I was thinking maybe try stopping more than 83 percent of the shots you face. How does that sound?” is not a thing a coach can really impart to a goaltender. Likewise, telling Fedor Tyutin, “Try not to put your outlet passes directly onto the sticks of attacking players at the faceoff dots,” is something that shouldn't have to be said in the first place.
You'd like to see the team put more together in attack, it's true. But just as the defense is putting itself in bad positions, leading to high percentages, the offense is doing nothing but getting to good parts of the ice and just not scoring. Getting 12 high-quality chances per 60 at 5-on-5 should result in a decent rate of return, but only about 1 in 10 are going in (1.3 goals for per 60).
The total number of goals this team has scored at 5-on-5 in four games this year? Two. One from Ryan Johansen, one from Cam Atkinson. There are already 20 players around the league who have at least that many. Oscar Lindberg three against Columbus alone, and four overall. Mark Scheifele, Justin Abdelkader, and Gabriel Landeskog have three each. Another 16 guys have matched Columbus's output all by themselves. Further, 160 players have been on the ice for at least two full-strength goals. Scott Hartnell happens to be one of them, but even four games into what looks like it could quickly become a long season that's a worry.
That, I think, would appear to be the problem. If half the chances against you are going in, and almost 9 out of 10 for you are not, you're going to lose a lot of hockey games. The good news is that numbers like that usually don't last (they did for the Oilers last season, to an extent, but even those numbers weren't nearly as dismal as Columbus's are currently).
But if you're Richards, there's more bad news: If the awful own-zone play and the bad luck in attack continues, you might not be around to see those numbers bounce back.
All stats via War on Ice unless otherwise stated.
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