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Analytics suggest Columbus slide could be temporary

by Rob Vollman
Rob Vollman is a pioneer in the field of hockey analytics and the co-author of Hockey Abstract. His innovations include Player Usage Charts on Home Plate Save Percentage. He will contribute a regular column to throughout this season.

The Columbus Blue Jackets dug themselves an early hole with an eight-game losing streak to open the season.

During that stretch, the Blue Jackets were outscored 37-15, fired their coach and bore little resemblance to a team many predicted would be a serious contender for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

But, it may be way too early to write off these Blue Jackets, who have a new coach in John Tortorella and have won back-to-back games.

Columbus has a strong starting goaltender in Sergei Bobrovsky, an experienced and accomplished coaching staff, and a solid young core of players, highlighted by Ryan Johansen, who could someday supplant Rick Nash as the Blue Jackets' best all-time player.

Bobrovsky, who won the Vezina Trophy in 2012-13, is a solid goalie who simply got off to a cold start. Within the NHL, there are a handful of goalies that compromise the elite; they include Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens, Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers, and Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins. After that, there is a strong second tier of goalies to which Bobrovsky belongs, by virtually any statistical measure.

To demonstrate using a couple metrics of my own creation, Bobrovsky's home-plate save percentage during the past three seasons is .849, which ranks seventh in the League (minimum 1,000 shots). To level the playing field among goalies who face shots from different locations, this metric measures a goalie's save percentage on shots taken exclusively within the home-plate area, an area extending from the crease to the top of the faceoff circles and signifying the best possible locations from which to score.

Home Plate Save Percentage, 2012-13 to 2014-15
Goalie Team HP SV%
Braden Holtby Washington .859
Cory Schneider New Jersey .858
Henrik Lundqvist NY Rangers .856
Tuukka Rask Boston .855
Jaroslav Halak NY Islanders .853
Devan Dubnyk Minnesota .850
Sergei Bobrovsky Columbus .849
Semyon Varlamov Colorado .848
Ben Bishop Tampa Bay .848
Carey Price Montreal .847
Minimum 1,000 shots faced

Bobrovsky required eight games this season to record his first quality start, which is defined as any game in which the starting goalie stops at least a League average number of shots. But, his 60 percent quality start percentage for his career ranked fifth among active goalies from the 2010-11 season to now (minimum 100 starts).

Quality Start Percentage, 2010-11 to 2014-15
Goalie Team Starts Quality Starts QS%
Tuukka Rask Boston 208 135 64.9
Cory Schneider New Jersey 191 122 63.9
Pekka Rinne Nashville 266 164 61.7
Henrik Lundqvist NY Rangers 280 170 60.7
Sergei Bobrovsky Columbus 220 132 60.0
Semyon Varlamov Colorado 227 135 59.5
Corey Crawford Chicago 251 149 59.4
Roberto Luongo Florida 249 149 59.4
Braden Holtby Washington 170 100 58.8
Carey Price Montreal 298 175 58.7
Minimum 100 games started

The historical performance suggests he can be expected to provide consistent goaltending that allows Columbus the opportunity to win any given night.

Bobrovsky's uncharacteristically unreliable play through the team's first seven games may have contributed to Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen's difficult decision to replace coach Todd Richards, who began the season as one of the favorites for the Jack Adams Award.

Even before the hiring of Tortorella, Columbus already had an experienced and accomplished coaching staff. Craig Hartsburg, who has achieved considerable coaching success in the Ontario Hockey League and Western Hockey League, and Brad Larsen, who had two strong seasons in the American Hockey League as coach of Springfield.

Having a strong coaching staff can add several points to the standings, especially on young teams with such tremendous potential.


The youth is apparent everywhere on the roster. Jack Johnson and Fedor Tyutin are the only Blue Jackets defensemen older than 25 and 12 of the 22 goals this season have been scored by players under the age of 24.

Johansen scores goals, has the kind of playmaking skills that lifted Nick Foligno from a career high of 18 goals to 31 last year, lines up against top opponents, can kill penalties, has won 51.8 percent of his career faceoffs, and has scored 10 goals in 26 career shootout attempts. There's nothing he can't do, and he will be as integral to the Blue Jackets' turnaround with Bobrovsky and Tortorella. Johansen has missed two games fighting fatigue issues, but he could be back in the lineup Friday.

What to Expect

Before the season began, the popular expectation was the Blue Jackets were one of the teams that could fight their way back into the postseason after injuries decimated their hopes in 2014-15. This slow start was decidedly unlucky, but this is a team that still has all the tools required to climb back into the hunt.

A lot of the reasons the Blue Jackets were popular a month ago are still valid today; they have a strong goaltender in Bobrovsky, and Johansen leads a core of young players bursting with potential that can be unlocked by the team's experienced and accomplished coaching staff.

Based on the back-to-back road wins against Colorado and New Jersey, Columbus may have already turned the corner.

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