In the past seven days, the Columbus Blue Jackets have been a very extreme hockey team with personality differences that would make Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde jealous. In two games, the Jackets were beaten quite soundly. In the other two? They ran the show… although these results don’t always match the scoreboard outcomes. What gives, and what do these different teams look like?
Thanks to the outstanding work of Behind the Net, we can look at Fenwick Timelines for a game, a plot of the shot and attempts (excluding blocked shots) for each team in a game. (Seriously though, you should follow the Behind the Net boss Gabe Desjardins on Twitter and check out his work on Arctic Ice Hockey.)
Fenwick Timelines provide a nice visual representation of the flow of the game and (like Corsi/Fenwick in numerical terms) give an estimate of which team was controlling the game. As expected, it’s imperfect for looking at the actual winner; score effects exist and puck luck won’t always see the shot-dominant team win. But a wide positive Fenwick gap over many games is very conducive to victory over the long-term.
More simply: if Team A is always outshooting the other, Team A is more likely to win games. So what have the Blue Jackets been doing over the last seven days?
Columbus has been the awful team twice and the great team twice, the sort of change that could cause graph-induced whiplash. Put on some PPE while we take rough look at their performances.
(Note: the best way to access these Fenwick Timelines: go to Nice Time on Ice, select the game you’re interested in, then click on “Fenwick Timeline” in the right column. Vertical lines represent times when a goal was scored.)
From Behind the Net: February 5, 2013 Columbus vs. Los Angeles
The loss versus Los Angeles was described as a decent first period and loss the rest of the way. Unfortunately, the scoreboard outcome is even more unfriendly to Columbus in the Fenwick Timeline. As Los Angeles took the lead in the 2nd period, score effects should have helped later in the frame or in the third. Instead, the trailing team imploded and LA easily outshot the Jackets. It’s a disheartening outcome, and a sign of dominance from the Kings or surrender by the Jackets. Either isn’t very desirable.
From Behind the Net: February 7, 2013 Columbus vs Calgary
The game versus Calgary saw another description of early strength followed by late implosion, and the Timeline matches that narrative. While the shot differential was close throughout the first, Columbus held a lead most of the way. Then in the second period the Flames’ rate picked up while the Jackets fell off. This is consistent with a Flames club working to catch up, but their shot control continued through their tying goal.
The final ten minutes and OT saw a plateau for Calgary and brief uptick for Columbus, but the Jackets were unable to capitalize. Overall, it’s positive to see the then-tied Blue Jackets generating shots again, but they were left behind overall.
From Behind the Net: February 10, 2013 Columbus vs Edmonton
Now this is impressive. You could argue (and probably successfully) that Columbus was likely to have this kind of shot output playing from behind much of the night. But the degree to which they dominated the shot totals (including before the first Oiler goal and after Umberger tied the game) was reflective of a team clicking on all cylinders. While the outcome was heartbreaking and frustrating, the game was great for the home team in nearly every facet except for the scoreboard.
Quite frankly, this is a completely different kind of team than the one that played versus Los Angeles. Had this version of the club skated on 2/5, it’s likely that the Kings never would have taken a lead. Perhaps that’s an unfair assessment (the Kings are an insanely strong Fenwick team after all), but it’s a realistic expectation after looking the next game versus San Jose.
From Behind the Net: February 11, 2013 Columbus vs San Jose
Another great performance. The first period shooting “woes” are fairly minimal here: San Jose was fighting from behind the whole night, and the Fenwick differential in the first twenty was fairly minimal. Most important was that this gap was never allowed to grow until, in the second stanza, the Jackets erupted and passed the Sharks.
This is an impressive outcome for a Blue Jackets team playing with the lead throughout the game facing a potent Sharks lineup. Instead of seeing score effects change the play, Columbus drove the action for most of the contest. And luckily for the Jackets, Thomas Greiss was not equal to the task as he saved only 83.3% of shots on net.
So what team does Columbus really have? This is the key question coming out of this Fenwick observation, and it’s one I can’t really answer. For the season, they’ve been pretty awful, even with the two most recent games included. It’s tempting to call the team bad and move along, but a two game anomaly in a 13 game campaign might be noteworthy.
I’ll need to do more work to see what factors went into making Columbus so much more effective in the past two games. I’m currently setting up Corsi data gathering for some supplemental information (as of now TimeOnIce isn’t updated for the season). That could help reveal more information about the players performing exceedingly well or poorly in these particular games.
On the season (as of this writing) Dubinsky, Foligno, and Calvert are among the team leaders in net Corsi. Perhaps Dubinsky’s increased ice time versus Edmonton and San Jose led to a higher shot generation for the club (something that Fear the Fin substantiates to a degree). But that’s just one guess at the answer.
We should know more about this overall sudden improvement after this weekend. Play versus the Kings and Coyotes might prove informative about the team’s long-term outlook.