Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Special Teams Need to be Special

After the loss to Vancouver Monday night, solutions for the team (some more ridiculous than others) began pouring out on twitter through the #CBJ feed, and I felt compelled to consider the possible solutions myself.  There is of course the obviousness of it only being a three game stretch, and while the team sits winless, they also were not blown out in any of their games and maintained solid puck possession for solid stretches in each game.  I also considered the fact that three games in four nights can wear on players, as well as the fact that this new look Blue Jackets team inevitably needs some time to gel (Go read this post on team rebuilds over the last couple seasons and their success rates early on in the season by Matt over at the Cannon. It's eye opening for those thinking this is the fate of the season).

With that said, I decided to go after the most glaringly disappointing stat the Blue Jackets had to offer.  Enter special teams.  I am going to break them apart as they are both painful, but my short disclaimer is of course that the season is only three games deep, and it does take time for teams to gel (especially with all the new comers and rookies).  With that said, it doesn't close the door on speculation.

The Powerplay :: 0% :: 0 for 16

It is an awful number to look at.  Like the rookie who can't score his first goal, or the veteran who can't seem to reach a milestone.  It is a monkey that will cling on the backs of every single player spending time on the powerplay until they score one.  There is no question they have to be better here.  While chances are slowly looking better and better, their passes have been mediocre and their shots have been off target.  In fact, during at least two of the games, powerplays have caused them to actually LOSE momentum rather than gain it.

But here's the surprising stat. They are not the only ones.  This 0% is actually tied, for 24th in the league.  There are six other teams (including most notably the Rangers and Red Wings) who have yet to bury on the man advantage.  It is not an excuse, but it definitely puts it into perspective considering the Red Wings usually have a tremendous powerplay.

Obviously the subtraction of Wisniewski has been an issue.  He is a great fit on the point and the youth movement, while being positive for the team, seems to be a bit overwhelmed in these scenarios.  This certainly should not be a scapegoat for their lack of success, but considering he was brought in with the intent to better the Jackets chances with the man advantage, I am more than comfortable in waiting until he gets back before I really get critical about their powerplay percentage.

The Penalty Kill :: 63.6% :: 4 of 11

This is an awfully underwhelming number.  Off the top of my head I can think of three of the goals the Jackets have given up while down a man (I'll check the box scores to remember the fourth).  Aside from one goal, it was the result of a very poor play by a Blue Jacket player leaving a man open.  In a quick rehash: MacKenzie overcommits to a pass, leaving Suter with a lifetime to shoot after the pass across the crease is made.  Tyutin is left waving his stick as Scandella burns him from the outside and walks in alone on Mason.  (Heatley's goal is excluded, as that was just a fantastic redirect). Finally, Burrows is given the free lane to the net after Methot overcommits to the point man and gets two whacks at the puck, the second of which finds the back of the net.

These are not the worst goals ever allowed, but they are the defensive breakdowns that cost teams hockey games.  I am sure each play will be broken down and wrist slaps will be given, but they are going to have to iron it out before October disappears into November.  They currently sit at 28th in the league with 63.6% on the penalty kill, and it simply isn't good enough with the offensive output at only 2.0 goals per game (18th in the league).

The Blue Jackets are going to need to find a way to become special on special teams.  I had the opportunity of witnessing some excellent control on the powerplay in the pre-season, and I have to admit I like what I saw.  Crisp passing that was on the tape and not fluttering, and some seriously quick thinking leading to a few 'jump out of your seat even though it's just pre-season' goals.  If they can find a way to return to that form I believe there is plenty of opportunity to succeed without Wiz, but his return will be one of the major contributors to the success of the man advantage.

Carry the Flag!

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