There’s a syllogism going around that goes like this:
- Coaches who are fired midseason are often fired based on poor goaltender performance. (A bit in line with the idea that a lot of Jack Adams winners are riding a high PDO all the way to the award ceremony.)
- Sergei Bobrovsky’s .835 all situation save percentage is putrid and Curtis McElhinney’s .891 is bad. Columbus’s 52.4% CF% is pretty good.
- Ergo, Todd Richards was fired because of poor goaltending.
Enter exhibit A for score effects: The 2015-16 Columbus Blue Jackets under Todd Richards.
Columbus has played terrible. That 52.4% CF% is a load of crap wrapped in syrup-glazed bacon. I’m not arguing that poor goaltending doesn’t sometimes lead to coaches getting fired. If their goaltender was Carey Price and you changed nothing else about the team, Richards is probably on the bench in Minnesota.
But the narrative that goaltending is Columbus’s biggest problem is erroneous. They’re a mess.
If you do a score adjustment, War on Ice has their CF% dropping to 49.7%. That’s a significant drop and should indicate that there’s a lot of production happening for them when they’re down and opponents are going into a defensive shell.
If you look at their status across different score situations, there’s a lot that’s concerning and maybe a little that indicates they’re beating themselves with massive mental collapses.
First, let’s look at their even strength CF% over different goal differentials. There’s a steep incline on the graph, showing that they’ve been hot garbage when they’re up or tied and only give the appearance of applying pressure when they’re down.
That’s particularly important to note when you’re looking at their overall CF%, because they haven’t been up or tied all that often (and that makes those numbers a small sample size, but this is all a small sample size and it’s the sample size over which Richards lost his job).
When they’re down by three or more goals is also the only score situation in which they’re outscoring opponents.
Another problem they have is giving up goals in clumps. When they go down a goal they appear to deflate and opponents are having a pretty easy team putting another puck in the net quickly, effectively burying Columbus.
In their season debut against the Rangers, they allowed four goals in 2:31, including an empty net goal. The next game, the Rangers scored two goals in 36 seconds, to put them up 3-0 just 5:48 into the game.
In game four, they exited the first period up 2-1 on Ottawa. There weren’t any back-to-back goals, but the Senators scored six goals in the second and third periods.
Next game, the exit the first period up 1-0 on Toronto. Toronto got a goal just 29 seconds into the period, then Columbus gave up two goals in 1:18 to give up the lead and go down two.
Next game, the exit the first period locked up 0-0 with Chicago, then they give up two goals in 1:05 in the second to go down two.
Todd Richards’s final game on the bench, the Blue Jackets enter the third period down 1-0. They get three power plays in the first seven minutes that they don’t connect on. Then give up two goals in 2:16 and three total goals over a span of five minutes and 26 seconds before losing 4-0.
You see this problem in their team save percentage as well. All four of the plot points on the left side are unacceptably low. (And likely to regress toward the mean at least some, even if Bobrovsky has the worst season of his career.) But the only time that they’re getting decent goaltending is when they’re down three or more goals.
Further evidence that there are a lot of mental breakdowns happening? The number of goals scored at the beginning or end of a period. Through seven games the Jackets have allowed two goals in the first minute of a period and six goals in the first 1:45 of a period. They’ve also allowed three goals in the final minute of a period and seven goals in the final 1:30 of periods.
Can the Blue Jackets turn it around under John Tortorella? Yes. Though 0-7-0 is an ugly place to be, it’s still early in the season and teams with similar records have been able to turn it around and hit the playoffs. But Tortorella has his work cut out for him. It’s not just a goaltending problem — though goaltending <em>is</em> a problem — for the Blue Jackets, but a deeper problem that doesn’t have such a clear solution.