How a week changes things in the 2013 National Hockey League! Last week, I was working through the “Blue Jackets at the quarter pole” motif and was planning a follow-up to discuss players. Since that point, we’ve had a few more games – the quarter pole turning into the one-third pole, if there is such a thing – and the Blue Jackets went and swapped out their general manager for a new one. I figured that the commentary on the Jarmo Kekäläinen hire took precedence, so the players had to wait.
But here we are, so let’s dive in. How best to start? When in doubt, I say look at the statistics. And three aspects of those statistics popped out at me, offering plenty of players of note.
Goals are hard to come by this season, with Columbus sitting at 28th in the league in “goals for” with 2.19 goals per game. Thus, the players who are making goals happen need to be recognized. Here are the top point scorers on the Columbus Blue Jackets after 16 games:
Fedor Tyutin is tops on the team in points as of game 16 with ten. Interestingly, he only has one goal and complements that with an impressive nine assists. At this pace, he’ll have 27 assists on the season – which would crush his 2011-12 assist tally of 21, and in only 48 games! He’s also a workhorse on defense, logging fewer than 20 minutes (19:49, so close!) of ice time only once this year.
Derrick Brassard is a curious case – it feels like he’s come on strong of late, but his game by game breakdown reveals a reasonably even spread of his three goals and six assists throughout the sixteen games played thus far. Still, Brassard is Columbus’ sole remaining first round-drafted forward on the roster (he was drafted sixth overall in 2006) and needs to produce like a player of such stature…and that means a lot more scoring than what he’s done thus far.
Vinny Prospal, the ageless wonder, has five goals (tied for the team lead) and three assists. What makes the goals all the more intersting is that he has a shooting percentage of 17.9, one of the highest on the team.
Brandon Dubinsky just hit the injured reserve with a sprained knee, and he’s had a devil of a time putting the puck in the net, but he has seven assists to complement his single goal. Beyond that, CBJ president of hockey operations John Davidson has been effusive about Dubinsky and fellow ex-Ranger Artem Anisimov, suggesting that their play is a model for the entire team.
Mark Letestu spent the first two games in the press box as a healthy scratch, found his way onto the ice and hasn’t looked back. He’s tied with Prospal for team lead in goals with five (on a gaudy 25.0 shooting percentage!) and three assists. His time on ice has also increased to the point that he’s reliably looking at 17-plus minutes a game. So if Letestu has proved so valuable of late, why was he scratched early on? I’ll blame the six-day training camp, where coach Todd Richards had no time to appreciate what he had on his hands (the early season quote from the coach about not knowing Anisimov had a good wrist-shot was a tip-off on that front). Regardless, that misunderstanding has been cleared up, and Letestu is off to the races. (By the way, Letestu is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Will Kekäläinen make a move to re-sign him before he tests the market?)
THE RIGHT PLACE AT THE RIGHT TIME
How do you describe the “plus-minus” statistic to a hockey newcomer? It’s the number of times you are on the ice for an even strength goal. If the goal is for your team, your plus-minus goes up by one. If the goal is for the other guys, it drops by one. Thus, you want your plus-minus to be as high as possible. You might meaningfully contribute to goals for your team, you might not…but you’re in the right place at the right time!
When you have 35 goals scored on the season against 50 given up, you’re not going to have a number of players on the “plus” side of the ledger. Here are the top “plus” players on the team:
Jared Boll is the luckiest amongst us with a plus-four rating. Boll’s place at the top of this list speaks volumes to the relative effectiveness of the fourth line. I suppose I’ll throw in a mention that fellow fourth liner Derek Mackenzie and early-season fourth linemate Mark Letestu (who’s since been promoted to the top six on most nights) both are a plus-one.
Tim Erixson has only played eight games, but he’s already tied for the team’s plus-minus lead with a plus-four. I suppose this is what the Powers That Be meant when they said that while they were sending Erixson down to AHL Springfield at the conclusion of training camp, he was going to be in Columbus at some point in the season. The blue line is getting a little crowded as players return from injury and childbirths, but it appears that Erixson has secured the number seven defensive slot on the roster and, if some players don’t raise their game, could be a threat to take someone’s minutes.
Nick Foligno is the team’s rarity – a top-six forward with a positive plus-minus (plus-two). I’d say it’s either a testament to his playmaking ability and nose for the net or some incredible good fortune. It’s probably the former.
Sergei Bobrovsky has played in 9 games and has a 2-5-2 record, a 2.88 Goals Against Average and an .897 save percentage.
Steve Mason has played in 8 games and has a 2-5 record, a 3.00 Goals Against Average and a .900 save percentage.
I heard that many teams were going to have “1″ and “1a” goaltenders this season due to the compressed schedule not giving a single goalie sufficient time to rest between games, but this is ridiculous. It’s like we have mirror images for our two goalies this season.
On the bright side, Bob has had his share of nice saves…and Mason appears to be rebounding slightly from the post-Calder Trophy (rookie of the year, which he won in 2009) hangover.
I’m not convinced that either goalie is the long-term solution for the CBJ, but they’re by no means the team’s major weakness this season. In fact, I have a feeling that they would be even better if the forwards could give them some goal support.