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 take heart losers: Switchfoot says that “only the losers win.” So you’ve got that going for you.
The Columbus Blue Jackets have started the 2011-12 season in the worst way possible. They are currently the only team left in the NHL without a win, starting the season 0-6-1. Their longest streak without a win last season was also 7 games, but in that stretch in March they managed to at least pick up 3 points by losing in overtime or the shootout.
Speaking of last season, the Blue Jackets are actually on a much longer winless streak. They finished out the 2010-11 season with an 0-4-2 record in their final 6 games, which stretches their current streak of futility to 13 games without a win.
While the general rule of thumb is to wait until 10 games to start making judgements and pronouncements, the Blue Jackets could win their next three games and still be three games below .500. The thing is, this team can’t possibly be as terrible as their record would indicate, right? Will the Blue Jackets go 82 games without a win? Are they bad beyond all infinite dimensions of possible badness?
Of course not. They couldn’t possibly be. That doesn’t mean they’re good; they’re just not this bad.
The Blue Jackets have been outscored 25 to 14 to start the year, but have actually outshot their opponents.* A few bounces going their way and their four games that they lost by one goal could have had a different result. Their powerplay was 0-for-20 through their first 4 games, but have scored powerplay goals in three straight. With James Wisniewski returning in 2 games from his preseason suspension, their powerplay should turn around.
But the main two points of concern have to be the penalty kill and the play of Steve Mason. The Blue Jackets currently boast the second-worst penalty kill in the league, just barely better than that of the Senators. One of the reasons for their shorthanded struggles is Mason’s terrible .795 shorthanded save percentage, a number that is unlikely to remain that low. Until the penalty kill gets sorted out, however, they’ll need to stay out of the box. In their latest game against the Red Wings, the Blue Jackets gave up 3 powerplay goals in a game they lost by 3 goals.
As for Steve Mason, it’s been made eminently clear that he is extremely unlikely to repeat his numbers from his Calder Trophy-winning rookie season. After putting up a .916 save percentage in 2008-09, he recorded two straight seasons with a .901 save percentage: unsurprisingly, the Blue Jackets missed the playoffs both those years. So it’s not too surprising to see him struggling, but his save percentage is currently sitting at .881. It’s not just that his statistics have to improve or he’ll lose his job; his statistics will improve once we have a large enough sample size to draw from.