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Saturday, September 27, 2008


27 September, 2008

Let’s just say it up front, and get it out of the way: The Blue Jackets are the only active team in the NHL never to have qualified for the postseason. After seven seasons, the natives are getting restless. Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? What will the 08-09 season bring?

Post-Lockout, Columbus has finished each season an average of -9.2 against the PQC. Last season’s finish of -7 was a marked improvement over the Jackets-10.5 in 06-07 or -10 in 05-06, however. 07-08 was also Ken Hitchcock’s first full season behind the Columbus bench. This is NOT a coincidence.

Some statistics of note from last season:
  • Goaltending was huge. Team goal differential dropped from -48 two seasons ago to -20 last year. Columbus tied for 8th in Goals Against (210). Also, the Blue Jackets’ 11 shutouts were good for 2nd in the league.
  • Team defense improved. Columbus finished 6th in Shots Against, allowing an average of 27.4 per game. The Penalty Kill (83.33%) was 9th in the NHL.
  • After being called OUT of the playoffs by OGA in NOVEMBER in the previous two seasons, the Jackets remained in the playoff hunt last season until 15 FEBRUARY.
Clearly, the Blue Jackets took steps in the right direction in 07-08. The length of those strides was limited by roster depth, particularly in the goal-scoring department: Only five players reached double-digits, and just two – Rick Nash and Nikolai Zherdev – scored more than 14 goals. The team scored just 190 goals last season, one more than the 30th-ranked New York Islanders. Obviously, this was a significant factor in the Jackets’ woeful win percentage of just .200 when trailing after the 1st period (29th in the NHL). The Blue Jackets’ maturing draft picks and off-season moves should help address the problem.

(cont) Zherdev, the Jackets’ 2nd-leading goal scorer, was traded. In his stead, Columbus signed free agent Kristian Huselius, who seems to have quickly developed chemistry with linemate Rick Nash. A healthy Fredrik Modin and rookies Jakub Voracek and Nikita Filatov will provide scoring depth on the wings. The Center position is an area of concern, as the top line will be centered by either R.J. Umberger or Derick Brassard. The Blue Jackets are moving in the right direction, and they will definitely be more competitive this year than last.

The Blue Jackets’ first ten games are played 10 – 30 OCTOBER. Our research indicates that in that time frame, Columbus earns an average PQC rating of 4.3 and about 9 points in the NHL standings. Last season was the first in which the Jackets found themselves above the Playoff Qualifying Curve after ten games. How important is secondary scoring? The Blue Jackets’ track in relation to the PQC in 07-08 rises and falls in close relation to the presence (or absence) of Fredrik Modin in the lineup.

Some statistics to keep in mind for the first month of the season:
  • Over the last three seasons, Columbus is 12-15-3 through their first ten games
  • In the second game of back-to-back series, the Jackets win just 35%. This season, they play THREE back-to-back sets in the first ten games.
  • Columbus’ road record last season was 28th in the NHL. This season, six of their first ten games are on the road.
OGA will be measuring the Blue Jackets against their average PQC rating of 4.3, as well as against other NHL teams, in order to provide you more in-depth analysis with ColumbusGame 10 Report, due to season subscribers by 2PM CST on 31 OCTOBER, and available for order from ongoalanalysis.com by 2PM CST on 1 NOVEMBER. (See a sample G10R here… )

08-09 should be an entertaining season in Buckeye Country. There is much cause for hope: A great coach, with a battle-tested system which stresses defensive responsibility. In Rick Nash, a star (if not superstar) taking his game to the next level. A goalie looking to improve upon his breakout season. Skilled youngsters, looking to sip from Lord Stanley’s Cup before they’re of legal age. A revamped blueline. A team with something to prove, hungry for victory. Will the Blue Jackets keep pace with Chicago while gaining ground on Detroit? Will 3rd place in the Central Division be good enough for a playoff berth? Track the Jackets’ progress on The OGA Blogs and in the Columbus G10R. OGA knows, and you can, too.

Sunday Morning Coming Down: The Detroit Red Wings SPR. Until then, Big Tex says, “Try the corny dogs.”

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