The Columbus Blue Jackets (6-5-0, 5th Metropolitan) are next on the San Jose Sharks (6-3-3, 1st Pacific) hit parade tonight, as our boys host the second of a four game home stand that carries through to next week. While the Sharks’ last outing left a lot to be desired, their overall record is strong, and it’s pretty clear that they are a Good Team. The Jackets, on the other hand, expected by many to contend for the lofty heights of their Metropolitan division, have inspired doubt and consternation with their early play, not the least of which is centered on their former Vezina trophy winner, Sergei Bobrovsky.
The loose cannon (ha!) officer they call Bob is regarded by many to be among the best players at his position in the world, but we wouldn’t know it by the way he’s been playing this season. Among 30 NHL goaltenders with at least seven games played, Bobrovsky’s .882 save percentage ranks 27th and his -3.7 goals saved above average at 5-on-5 (GSAA, via Corsica) is 28th. What’s more, it seems that Officer Bob’s out-of-character play has not escaped the notice of head coach and very mean person who likes dogs, John Tortorella, who has handed the net to back up goalie and second best Joonas in the building, Joonas Korpisalo.
Bobrovsky may not have too much to worry about there, as Korpisalo’s .881 and -1.27 GSAA are nothing to sing songs about.
Much was made during the off season of the pending unrestricted free agency of Bobrovsky and fellow very skilled Russian hockey person Artemi Panarin. If Bob’s shaky start to the season is in part caused by the uncertainty of his future, Panarin has no such qualms. The former Chicago Blackhawk leads the Jackets in points (15), and assists (10, only one secondary) and continues to make the case that his Calder winning season was less Patrick Kane beneficiary and more Patrick Kane benefactor.
After a hot 3-1 start to the season, the Jackets have fallen back to the pack, most recently with a disheartening 5-3 loss to the Detroit Red Wings at home on Tuesday. After digging themselves into a 3-0 hole in the first period, leading to the ouster of Korpisalo for Bobrovsky, the Jackets tied the game with three quick goals in the third period from Josh Anderson, Markus Nutivaara and Pierre-Luc Dubois. Unfortunately, they could not hold on to hope’s gossamer thread, and allowed a back breaking fourth goal courtesy of Detroit’s Tyler Bertuzzi to stand as the eventual game winner.
The Sharks are coming into tonight’s festivities fresh off of some disappointment of their own. Despite lackluster play and sloppy communication through most of the game’s first 40 minutes the Sharks managed to scrape a point out of an eventual 4-3 shoot out loss to the basement dwelling New York Rangers in San Jose on Tuesday. The Sharks seemed to find their legs in the third period, burying goaltender Henrik Lundqvist in shots, and were rewarded with a heroic tying goal from Tomas Hertl with 1.3 seconds left on the clock. Kevin Shattenkirk was the only player to score in the shootout, however, and the King of New York continues to build his already impressive legacy.
Will the Sharks’ lines and pairs survive the horrors of the PDB Blender?
Head coach Peter Deboer unpacked his trusty Line Blender early on Tuesday, as the Sharks’ lines and defensive pairs seemed to be in pretty constant flux over the course of the evening, maybe contributing to the confusion that resulted in a bench minor for too many men on the ice in the third period. At some point, defensive stalwarts, dog lovers, and best friends (unconfirmed) Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Erik Karlsson will have to be reunited, if only because of the domination apparent to anyone with eyes at the end of Tuesday night’s contest. In other line up news, it remains to be seen at the time of this writing if Martin Jones’ shaky play so far this season will result in an Aaron Dell sighting tonight, but I don’t think anyone here would hate that plan.
Will Seth Jones return to form?
Jackets fans hoping for the season to start to turn around and find some consistency with the return of Seth Jones may have to calm their aspirations temporarily while he finds his sea legs. After missing the squad’s first seven games recovering from an MCL injury, Jones has driven offense at 5-on-5, a rate expected of him (more on that in one (1) paragraph), but has yet to reignite the team’s flagging defense or special teams, as Columbus’ defensive zone coverage, power play production and penalty kill efficacy are all worse with him on the ice than off. Still, at 24-years-old, Jones should recover well from his injury given time, and be right back to the game breaker we’ve come to respect and fear.
Is the Blue Jackets’ offense for real?
The Jackets currently sit eighth in the league in goals for with 39, but with a power play clicking at a dismal 13.6 percent efficiency and an unsustainable 9.9 shooting percentage at 5-on-5, the concern that their stellar offensive numbers will regress to be more in line with their defensive and special teams characteristics is very real. While Columbus’ PDO is a pretty pedestrian 0.993, and normally we’d expect that to regress upward along with Bobrovsky’s save percentage, the similarly structured expectation of a decline in offensive production is cause for concern.
Bold Prediction: Jones and Bobrovsky are both pulled for Dell and Korpisalo by the second intermission. Book it.
Note: if Dell and Korpisalo start the game, this prediction is still technically correct. The best kind of correct.