Bottoms Up is a weekly feature on Backhand Shelf that admits that sometimes the underdog doesn’t win; sometimes they just lose and lose and lose some more. But, as a loser, you do get to hang out with Zoe Saldana. So that’s nice.
It should come as no surprise that the Columbus Blue Jackets are still in last place. What’s astonishing is how far in last place they are: this past week they managed to get just their second win of the season in their 12th game, giving them only 5 points thus far. They’re already 9 points out of a playoff spot and they’re not showing any signs of turning things around.
In a previous Bottoms Up, I opined that the Blue Jackets couldn’t possibly be as bad as their record indicated. I was right: they hadn’t won any games yet and they won 2 of their next 6. So they’re not abysmally awful, they’re just terrible.
The Blue Jackets are getting brutally outscored 44 to 29, a league-worst minus-15. It’s not necessarily that they’re awful at scoring goals: they’re 24th in the league in goals/game, which certainly isn’t good, but they’ve scored 0.4 goals/game more than the worst team in the league, the New York Islanders. They’re 29th in the league in goals against/game, however, ahead of only the Ottawa Senators. They’ve given up 3 or more goals in 9 of their 12 games.
When giving up goals is the problem, it’s easy to blame the goaltender and Steve Mason hasn’t been particularly good. Here’s the thing, though: he hasn’t been any worse than Craig Anderson and the Senators have a .500 record and are in 8th place in the Eastern Conference. Mason’s save percentage is .880, Anderson’s is .883. Mason has a GAA of 3.36, Anderson’s is 3.66. Mason has started 12 of 13 of the Blue Jackets’ games, Anderson has started 11 of the Senator’s 14 games.
The difference is that the Senators have been able to out-score their defensive problems. In 6 of their 7 wins they have scored 3 or more goals and they’ve score 4 goals in four of their wins. The Blue Jackets have scored 4 goals once.
It’s gotten to the point that the Toronto Maple Leafs are feeling sorry for Steve Mason. When the Leafs – who haven’t won the Stanley Cup for longer than the Vancouver Canucks and Buffalo Sabres have existed – are feeling sorry for you, something has gone horribly, horribly wrong.
The Blue Jackets are a comic-tragedy right now. They keep finding increasingly inventive ways to lose. Twice they have been up 2-1 in the third period and have lost. In one of those games, the tying goal was scored with 41 seconds left. Two other times they’ve been tied going into the third period. In both games they’ve lost by more than 1 goal. Their worst loss had to be against the Senators, however, as they were up 2-1 with less than a minute only to have the Sens score two goals and win in regulation. That loss was covered in more detail in last week’s Bottoms Up.
It’s no surprise, then, that rumours of changes are flying around. Both coach Scott Arniel and general manager Scott Howson are rumoured to be up against the wall as the firing line loaded their guns, but club president Mike Priest denied those rumours before admitting that it wasn’t his decision. Rumours indicated that former coach Ken Hitchcock, currently serving as a “special advisor” to the Blue Jackets, would replace Arniel.
Blue Jackets bloggers seem to think it comes down to a choice: get rid of Arniel or get rid of Mason. The issue is that there’s no easy replacement for Mason: backup Mark Decanich is injured, as is AHL starter Curtis Sanford, leaving 22-year-old rookie Allen York as the backup to Mason. That sound you just heard is The Province’s editorial team frantically writing a column suggesting the Canucks trade Roberto Luongo for Rick Nash.
The Boston Bruins are still last in the Eastern Conference. It’s terrible how partial and biased I am, but the Bruins are all terrible people (excepting Tim Thomas) and deserve to lose every game this season, then lose the draft lottery and end up with the fifth overall pick instead of the first. Not that there’s any way they’ll end up below the Blue Jackets in the standings.
The general consensus is that this slide can’t last and that the Bruins will turn things around before too long. As much as I hate to admit it, they’re probably right, but there are still some troubling (aka. awesome) signs. Last season the Bruins were the best team in the league at even-strength, just ahead of the Presidents’ Trophy winning Canucks. This season, however, they’re actually getting out-scored at 5-on-5, if only by one goal. Combine that with their 25th-place powerplay and you can see why the Bruins are having trouble scoring goals.
Meanwhile, the New York Islanders are a new addition to the basement this season. They’re currently tied with the Bruins in points, but have a game in hand on the Stanley Cup Champions, as silly as it is to talk about games in hand at this point in the year. The Islanders have been excellent defensively: they’re 8th in the league in goals against per game, but they just can’t score. They have a league-low 18 goals so far this season through 10 games. That’s just plain putrid.
John Tavares has been outstanding, scoring 7 goals and 11 points through 10 games and P.A. Parenteau has benefited from playing on his line, while Mark Streit has chipped in 8 points of his own. Their secondary scoring, however, is nearly non-existent. Michael Grabner is second on the team with goals with 3. Only 6 other players on the team have scored, with only two of them having 2 goals.
The Islanders have been out-scored 17 to 10 at even-strength, but another problem is their powerplay. While they are currently 9th in the league in powerplay percentage at 19.4%, they simply don’t draw enough penalties to take advantage of it. They’re currently second-last in the NHL in powerplay opportunities. The problem is that it’s cyclical: unless they play better at even-strength and create more goal-scoring opportunities, they won’t draw many penalties.
Joining the Blue Jackets in the basement this week are the Calgary Flames, who are tied in points with the Red Wings, but have played one more game. Honestly, I understand why the Flames are in that position: they have an ageing core with not enough young talent to prop it up. I don’t understand what’s going on with the Red Wings. At all. Or rather, it’s the same problem as the Flames, but their ageing core is about a billion times better than that of the Flames.
After winning their first 5 games, the Red Wings are winless in 6, picking up only one OT loss in that span. The Flames, on the other hand, have been consistently mediocre, never winning or losing more than two games at a time.
For the Red Wings, their biggest loss came at the hands of the 9-2-0 Capitals, a 7-1 slaughter that kicked off their losing streak. The most embarrassing loss has to be the one that gave the Blue Jackets their first win of the season, a brutal 4-1 loss to the worst team in the league. For the Flames, their worst loss came to the Canucks, a 5-1 laugher that wasn’t even as close as that score makes it sound.
They both have their disappointing stars: Henrik Zetterberg has only 4 points in 11 games and is a team-worst minus-6, while Jarome Iginla has chipped in points but has been dreadfully inconsistent, failing to record a point in 8 of the Flames’ 12 games.
In fact, the only difference between these two teams is that the Red Wings have no business being in the cellar: their 5-0-0 start should be proof enough that they’re a good team, as should the fact that they’ve out-shot their opponents in all but 2 of their games this season. The Flames, on the other hand, have been out-shot in the majority of their games and have not inspired much confidence with the quality of their play.
That said, in their one meeting this season, the Flames won handily 4-1, so who knows?