The Columbus Blue Jackets' record has them as one of the worst teams in the NHL. In Part One of this series, we looked beyond that record and their terrible goal differential, and into some of the underlying numbers. What we found was that the Jackets are both outchancing and outshooting their opposition, but that their opponents have been far more likely to score on any given shot or scoring chance.
Left unanswered is why this is happening, and that's what we'll delve into now.
The obvious answer for at least half the question is goaltending. If the opposition is scoring a lot on relatively few shots/scoring chances, it probably means there's a problem in net.
Thirty-one goaltenders have played at least 10 games in the NHL this season. Of that group, exactly one has a save percentage below .900: Steve Mason. The Jackets have been forced to rely on Mason thanks to a series of injuries in net, as projected backup Mark Dekanich has missed the entire season so far to injury and Curtis Sanford has also missed a good chunk of time.
How bad has Mason been compared to other goaltenders from the past three seasons?
Worst goaltending performances of the past three years
Player Season GP EV Save% Overall SV%
Patrick Lalime 2008-09 24 .897 .900
Cristobal Huet 2009-10 48 .896 .895
Nathan Lawson 2010-11 10 .896 .893
Curtis McElhinney 2008-09 14 .897 .889
Chris Osgood 2009-10 23 .897 .888
Pascal Leclaire 2009-10 34 .889 .887
Rick DiPietro 2010-11 26 .888 .886
Manny Legace 2008-09 29 .893 .885
Ty Conklin 2010-11 25 .891 .881
Ondrej Pavelec 2008-09 12 .898 .880
Steve Mason 2011-12 16 .894 .875
Justin Peters 2010-11 12 .891 .875
Tobias Stephan 2008-09 10 .890 .870
Curtis Joseph 2008-09 21 .892 .869
Pascal Leclaire 2008-09 12 .873 .867
That's an ugly list to be a part of. Lots of terrible, terrible goalies, or players at the very end of their careers, and one reasonably promising prospect in the mix (Pavelec). The list gets even worse if we look at the guys who have played at Mason's level or below:
Justin Petershis performance last season for the Carolina Hurricanes prompted the team to bring in veteran Brian Boucher for the backup job and earned him a one-way ticket to the minors.
Tobias Stephanonce the Stars' top goaltending prospect, his performance in 2009-10 earned him a job in Switzerland. He's still there.
The reanimated remains of Curtis Josephretired.
Pascal Leclairehis poor season came on the heels of his breakout performance, so naturally he got another chance in Ottawa. Just as naturally, he appears for a second time on this list. He's presently an unrestricted free agent.
The message here should be clear: Steve Mason's performance this year is of the type that ends NHL careers. An average NHL goaltender will post a .910 SV%, and a bad one will be around .900. A .900 goalie playing in place of Mason would have allowed 43 goals; Mason's allowed 54. That's almost a full goal per game worse than a sub-average NHL goalie; no team can win with that kind of netminding. Mason has been relentlessly horrible, and only a lack of options has forced the Blue Jackets to keep going to him; now he's in serious jeopardy of losing his job to a recently-healthy Curtis Sanford.
Still, a terrible save percentage is only one portion of the Blue Jackets' battle with the percentages. The other is their terrible shooting percentage. Rick Nash has just five goals on 69 shots for a 7.2 SH% (as of 11/22); he's a career 12.9% shooter, and he's just the tip of the proverbial iceberg:
Blue Jackets shooting below career averages
Player Goals Shots SH% Career SH%
Rick Nash 5 69 7.2% 12.9%
R.J. Umberger 2 59 3.4% 10.6%
Antoine Vermette 2 53 4.3% 12.6%
Jeff Carter 3 36 8.3% 10.8%
Those four players listed above represent four of the Blue Jackets' top-five forwards by ice time, and not coincidentally four of the Blue Jackets' five most frequent shooters (the other, Vaclav Prospal, is shooting at 11.3%, slightly above his career rate of 10.5%). If those four alone had been scoring goals at their career rates, the Jackets would be 13 goals bettermore than an extra half-goal scored per game.
I would also be extremely reluctant to chalk up the shooting percentage doldrums these players are fighting through to a coaching strategy or anything else more complicated than simple chance.
A couple of weeks ago, I studied whether there was any year to year connection between a team's shooting percentage in other words, whether teams could control their shooting percentage for good or bad from season to season. My conclusion was as follows:
To really see if shot quality matters offensively, we'd want to look at the entire league, over a period of years. Thanks to Behind the Net, we can do thatwe have four years of five-on-five shooting data, from 2007-08 to 2010-11. We'll run mathematical correlations, to see the relationship from one year to the nexta score of 1 represents a perfect correlation, a score of 0 shows no correlation whatsoever.
2007-08 to 2008-09 correlation: 0.179
2008-09 to 2009-10 correlation: -0.067
2009-10 to 2010-11 correlation: -0.121
Average year-to-year correlation: -0.003
The average correlation is actually slightly negative over these years, but it's very, very close to exactly zero. In other words, there seems to be no connection between how good a team's shooting percentage is from one year to the next. This is a significant argument that there is no major difference between individual NHL teams in their ability to score on any given shotover the big picture, shot quality in five-on-five situations evens out.
Twenty games into the season, it seems highly probable that the Blue Jackets' poor shooting percentage is something they can't do much about, and something that should eventually correct itself. Nash, Umberger, Vermette, and Carter will eventually return to their career levels, and when they do, the team will be better off.
Still, there are significant problems. As we discussed in Part 1, the Blue Jackets are only an average team with the score tied when it comes to creating shots or scoring chances. They face a problem in netSteve Mason is not just under contract for another season, but he's also quite young, and it is only two seasons ago that he won the Calder Trophy as the NHL's rookie of the year. Additionally, Columbus is already in a deep, deep hole. How should they proceed? We'll consider that in Parts 3 and 4.
Jonathan Willis is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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