Jackets’ search for more offense meets new obstacles
As the Blue Jackets season reaches the halfway point, the team continues to be in search of more offensive production. The Jackets have fired off 1,068 shots in 41 games but have faced 1,306 shots against. That means 45 percent of all the shots occurring with the team is on ice are coming from the Jackets, while 55 percent were coming from opponents — making them second to last in the league in on-ice shot percentage according to war-on-ice.com.
When the Montreal Canadiens came to town last night, the matchup provided an interesting scenario to see what would give. Montreal is 25th in the league in on-ice shots percentage with 47.4 percent meaning the Jackets were facing another team that has not been taking the majority of shots in a game.
The time to capitalize was now. Jackets forward Nick Foligno, the team leader in points (18-23-41), knew finding ways to generate offense was a priority.
"When we get away from our game of fore-checking and cycling the puck up to the point and getting it to the net is when we create problems for ourselves," Foligno said. "I think if we can get that mentality to get the puck and get it to our points or get it to the net and crash the net that’s when we generate our offensive opportunities."
Foligno has been leading the team in generating offensive chances. This season through 39 games, Foligno has attempted 240 shots on goal, had 12 missed shots, and 14 shot attempts blocked. Adding together all these attempts to put the puck in the net can be measured in a statistic called Corsi.
Foligno is the only current Jacket who has played more than 16 games and has a "Corsi for" percentage of 50 percent when the team is at even strength – meaning half of all shot attempts taken when Foligno on the ice are for the Jackets.
Jackets forward Scott Hartnell is nipping right at Foligno’s heels when it comes to Corsi. When Hartnell is on the ice this season, 49.9 percent of all shot attempts are in the Jackets favor. And taking shot attempts means you have the puck — which means you’re likely to control possession.
"We’re a really good team when we’re holding on to the puck," said Jackets forward Scott Hartnell. "We’ve got to get pucks to net, play less time in our D zone and hang on to the puck."
As a team, going in to Wednesay night’s game, the Jackets had a Corsi percentage of 46 putting them at 26th in the league, but Montreal was only two spots better — holding down 24th in the league with 48.7 percent. Wednesday’s game was meant to be a chance to right the ship and earn an edge on a team close to them in offensive production.
"I didn’t like how we played in games 39 (against Toronto) and 40 (against the Islanders)," said head coach Todd Richards. "This game is a chance for us to play better hockey."
But something happened on the way to a win, and a .500 record on the season — and the game became less about possession and shot attempts and more about penalties.
The Jackets took eight penalties on the night giving the Canadiens six power play opportunities. Montreal scored on three of those and would go on to win the game 3-2.
The penalties became disruptive to the Jackets’ attempts to generate consistent offense but they were not the root cause of the team’s inability to generate scoring chances, according to Richards.
"Their sticks were better than ours," Richards said. "They were able to get their sticks on pucks, knock them away from us and we had to spend more time in our own zone."
The stats matched Richards’ assessment. Hartnell had predicted earlier in the day that if the Jackets could get 30-40 shots on goal they would be good. The team was only able to generate 16 shots. They also had 13 missed shots and 17 blocked shots, earning them a 40 percent Corsi rating on the night when the team was at even strength. Sixty percent of the offensive attempts belonged to Montreal.
The loss stung.
"It hurts because we were in control early," Hartnell said. "Overall, we’ve got to have more possession time, more zone time and stop playing so much defense."
For a team still struggling to draw even on offensive chances night in and out, penalties and not controlling the puck led to the third consecutive loss.
The Jackets now prepare to face the New York Rangers. The two teams last met Oct 11, when the Jackets won the game and the offensive possession battle with 52.56 per Corsi on the night.