Mark Scheig The Hockey Writers
What Blue Jackets Must Prioritize to Make Playoffs
In part one of our Blue Jackets at halfway series, we reviewed the season to date to see how they came back to the playoff race when things didn’t look good. We now turn our attention to the rest of this season and what must happen for the Blue Jackets to make the playoffs.
As great as the point streak has been, there have to be some dramatic improvements if the Blue Jackets want to make the playoffs. The games are going to get harder. Teams are going to be more desperate. Being good won’t be good enough. The time has come for the players to take the next step.
In my mind, there are three key areas the Blue Jackets need to see improvement in during the second half of the season. It starts with the same issue that has been around for most of the season.
Need More Finish
We outlined in part one that the defense and goaltending have been excellent this season. Unfortunately the offense except for a couple of spurts has been pretty brutal.
The Blue Jackets have no players with 30 points as of Monday morning. Both Pierre-Luc Dubois and Gustav Nyquist have 28 points. Dubois has 14 goals. Zach Werenski has 13 goals after scoring five times in his last three games including a hat trick against the Florida Panthers. While that is great for Werenski, that puts into perspective how poor the overall forward production has been.
While injuries recently are an obvious major factor, these issues have been prevalent all season. The Blue Jackets have scored 109 goals in 42 games, an average of 2.60 goals per game. That ranks 27th in the NHL. Much more is needed from their important players.
- Nick Foligno: Fours goals this season including none in his last 17 games. He has just five assists in those 17 games.
- Alexander Wennberg: Two goals this season. He’s better than this.
- Boone Jenner: Eight goals this season but just two goals in his last 21 games.
- Josh Anderson. One goal all season. Has been out since the Ottawa game in December.
This is most of your offensive core. It’s up to them to deliver finish. A repeat performance like this in the second half won’t be good enough. They need to lead the way.
Both areas can be much better especially the power play. For a little bit of time after Paul MacLean joined the coaching staff, the Blue Jackets were in the top-10 for power-play efficiency in the NHL.
However in their last 15 games, the power play has gone ice cold, scoring just four goals in their last 45 chances. For the season, the Blue Jackets are converting at 16.8%. That’s 23rd in the NHL. When you are starving for goals, your power play has to be there to pick up the slack. It hasn’t of late. This goes to show you how awesome the goaltending and defense has been. They got a 12-game point streak despite this run on the power play.
It is fair to consider the injuries as to why the struggles of late. There’s new personnel. Noted contributors are out. This is a more expected outcome. As players start to return, this must improve. They’ve proven they can have success. It’s time to find consistency. It’s also time to find better quality looks on the power play.
As for the penalty kill, the Blue Jackets are at 80.8% which is 18th in the NHL. They have shown stretches of dominant play but it has stepped back some. Since Dec 1, they have allowed nine goals in 45 chances against, an 80% penalty kill rate.
I do expect this to improve once healthy players return but it will be an important factor. The Blue Jackets rode the league’s top-ranked penalty kill last season and they just slipped into the playoffs. Given their offensive struggles, it is important that the kill regains the form they showed last season.
So an average penalty kill coupled with a lackluster power play isn’t good enough. Both areas need to see consistent improvement if they want to make the playoffs. Realistic goals should be a 20% power play and an 83-84% kill. The talent is there. It’s a matter of them now demonstrating that on the ice.
Win in Regulation
The Blue Jackets are right in the thick of the playoff race but that’s thanks in large part to getting to overtime. They have just 13 regulation wins in 42 games on the season. Only five teams have less (Ottawa, Los Angeles, Anaheim, New Jersey and Detroit.)
The remainder of the schedule has huge games on it with many against the Metropolitan Division. These cannot be three point games. If they want to overtake the Flyers and others in the race, they must win these games in regulation.
The other thing to consider is the tiebreaker should one be needed. It has changed this season from regulation and overtime wins to just regulation wins.
So although the Blue Jackets trail the Flyers and Panthers by three in the standings, in reality it’s four because the Flyers own a 15-13 edge in regulation only wins and the Panthers own a 17-13 advantage. While getting overtime points is a good thing, they need to finish games in the first 60 minutes. This will come if the first two keys are improved upon.
The second half of the season is there. Now comes the good stuff. Can this young Blue Jackets team find their way and earn a fourth consecutive trip to the playoffs? What will management do if anything at the deadline? No matter what, it’s sure to be an interesting and entertaining second half of the season.
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