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Analysis: So far, Jackets' defense is the engine

With focus on more shot attempts, the Columbus blue line is leading the charge

by Alison Lukan @AlisonL / BlueJackets.com Exclusive

Before Friday's win over Chicago, John Tortorella shared one of the Blue Jackets' points of emphasis this season.

"We have put a focus on shot attempts," Tortorella said. "We're trying to get in that 60-65 area as far as shot attempts. That means bad angle shots, that means not overpassing. It's a work in progress."

Shot attempts aren't just shots on goal. Measuring shot attempts includes missed shots and also blocked shots. Seth Jones said the team has been talking about that shot attempts target since training camp began, and he knows why it matters.

"It has been shown that the more times you put the puck at the net, the more goals you score," Jones said. "You may not be shooting to score a goal when you do it, but putting it to the net may create a rebound and that could lead to second or third chances for us."

You may say to yourself "this sounds like common sense" or "it's not complicated." It's not meant to be. With the Blue Jackets now 2-2-0 and averaging 48.5 shot attempts per game at 5v5 and 58.75 in all situations, they are starting to see results - and not just from where you might expect. There is also plenty of offense coming from the defense.

"Last year we jumped in the play, but there's been so much emphasis on it this year," Jones said. "You look at how teams generate offense now, and that's how a lot of offense comes nowadays. It's nice to have the green light."

Let's take a very early look at how the Blue Jackets' defense has responded to the offensive call to action.

This chart shows all defensemen currently playing in the NHL as of Friday's games with Blue Jackets players highlighted. The sample size is exceedingly small for Columbus (just three games), but it shows some promising trends.

The chart measures shot attempts both for (the horizontal axis) and against (the vertical axis) per 60 minutes. The rate calculation (per 60) allows us to use the existing shot attempts taken, divided by the actual time on ice played by player to date, and then approximate that, on average, for a game.

There are dividing black lines that represent the league average for each measure, creating four quadrants - with some interpretations of the style of play that falls into that quadrant. The top left quadrant, represents players who, when on the ice, keep shots against the team low, but at the same time, shots for the team are also low. Not a lot of shooting of any kind going on. So watching this kind of play is nicknamed "dull."

Top right, represents players who keep shots against low but help generate a higher rate of shots for - thus this is called "good," because of course, the more shots you can get against your opponent the better. And if you want to talk about players who allow a higher rate of shots against but also for, (the lower right quadrant) that's "fun" hockey to watch.

It's promising to see the majority of the Jackets' defense falling on the right side of shots for, and being considered "good" or "fun."

Per puckalytics.com, going into Saturday's game, the Columbus defense made up two of the top four members of the team in terms of even strength individual shot attempts, with Zach Werenski as the overall team leader (13) and Jones in a tie for fourth with 10.

When it comes to shot attempts generated by the team, Werenski is fourth overall with a 67.9 even strength shot attempts per 60 according to naturalstattrick.com, and David Savard is fifth with 67.63.

And even with a lower-than-average shooting percentage as a team (9.20%) according to sportingcharts.com, the defensive corps work is resulting in points on the scoreboard. Again, it's very early in the season, but Werenski is the team points leader (2-3-5 in four games) and Seth Jones is fourth (1-2-3).

There are 78 regular season games yet to be played, and the blue line group is equally focused on remaining defensively accountable.

 "We have to be responsible and we, as a defensive corps, have talked about that," Jones said. "It doesn't matter how aggressive offensively we are - we can't take anything away from our sound defensive play. That's a balance that we need to have, but right now, I think we're doing a pretty good job."

With the average age of this defense at 24 years old, Tortorella hopes this is the beginning of something promising for the future of the organization.

"I know our defensemen are really taking the responsibility of adding offense to our club," Tortorella said. "There are going to be some bumps in the road with the youth. We're coaching them short term, but I think in the big picture of where this team could be, it's so promising.

"I've said to our guys they have to be the engine of our club right now at such a young age. We've put a lot of responsibility on them as far as the offensive part of the game. There's going to be some struggles, but in the big picture, I think there are nothing but good things happening for the Columbus Blue Jackets."

Charts provided by Sean Tierney (@SeanTierneyTSS) with data provided by Corsica.hockey

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