From the 2012-13 season to 2013-14, the Blue Jackets made one of the biggest improvements in their even strength puck possession among all NHL teams.
Basically, if you’re a 50 percent (or better) Corsi For (CF%) team during 5-on-5 play, you’re going to like the results in the long run.
Last season was a breakout year for the Blue Jackets, setting franchise records for wins (43) and points (93) while locking up one of the Eastern Conference’s wild card spots. They took the Pittsburgh Penguins to six games in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs in what could only be described as one of the weirder series in recent memory.
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Columbus was over 50 percent in Corsi Close last season. For reference, “close” is defined as situations when the score is tied or within a goal after two periods - which reinforces that the Blue Jackets were pretty good in tight games last year, and that was a big factor in earning their way into the playoffs.
Alright, so that was last year. How have they fared so far in 2014-15?
In short: it’s been up and down, but the Blue Jackets have faced quality competition, namely in their last two games against the New York Rangers (5-2 win) and the Dallas Stars (4-2 loss). Columbus opened the season with a dominant performance against the Buffalo Sabres, a game in which they owned the puck - particularly in the final two periods.
The Blue Jackets won that game 3-1, but also of note were their possession numbers. They finished the game with a CF% of 62 percent at even strength, and in all situations, that number was closer to 67 percent (66.7).
Looking at Fenwick, which is almost the same as Corsi except that blocked shots are excluded, the Blue Jackets were at 58.33 FF% at even strength in their season opener. That's to say they were pretty close to dominant.
On opening night at Nationwide Arena, the Blue Jackets raced out to a quick start against the Rangers and led 2-0 after the first period. The Rangers pushed back in the second period, but the Blue Jackets were the better possession team by a considerable margin, finishing the game with a CF% of just under 53 percent (52.56, to be exact) at 5-on-5.
Columbus scored five goals on 24 shots, one of those an empty-netter from Cam Atkinson in the latter stages of regulation.
And then, Tuesday’s game against the Dallas Stars - the first considerable dip in possession in the Jackets' first three games.
What we already know: the Stars stormed out of the gate, out-shooting the Blue Jackets 13-8 in the first period and taking a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes. Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, who are two pretty good hockey players, did most of the damage for Dallas, combining for seven points (four goals, three assists) including the game-winning goal with 7:44 to play.
The Stars were not shy in attempting to get the puck on net, attempting 61 shots to 56 by the Blue Jackets and dominating possession. Dallas’ CF% on Tuesday was bordering on 57 percent (56.73) and that concerned Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards, who felt his team did too much chasing and didn’t spend enough time playing with the puck in the offensive zone.
Are they missing key players right now? Absolutely, and players like Brandon Dubinsky (over 52 percent CF% last year) and Ryan Murray (also above 50 percent CF%) are key guys both for their skill and their ability to hang on to the puck and make plays.
The numbers back up what the standings show thus far: it’s been a mixed bag for the Blue Jackets, but they’ve had one more encouraging performance than the opposite.
NOTE: Possession statistics referenced in this story can be found at NaturalStatTrick.com.