Columbus Blue Jackets Defense Mid-Season Review

With the regular season half over, it’s time to evaluate how the Columbus Blue Jackets defense is doing thus far.

At the beginning of November, we took a look at how the Blue Jackets defense is on the rise. Now, with multiple injuries and struggling veterans, let’s take a look at how the defensive corps is doing.

Columbus Blue Jackets Defense Mid-Season Review

The Good

An extremely pleasant surprise so far has been Markus Nutivaara. When Zach Werenski missed a few games it was Nutivaara who slot in to play on the first pairing with Seth Jones. It would be a test for Nutivaara, whose first season on North American ice was just last season.

Nutivaara passed the test.

Earlier, he spent some time in Cleveland with the Blue Jackets AHL team, Cleveland Monsters, after hip surgery. Since coming back halfway through October, Nutivaara’s play has been one of the shining moments of this season.

Last season, his average time-on-ice was around 13 minutes. This season, it’s roughly 15 minutes and 30 seconds. Head Coach John Tortorella has also been trusting Nutivaara more, 47% of his zone starts have been in the defensive-zone; compared to only 39% last season. His relative Corsi-for is now a 3.57%, compared to -3.09% last season. His Corsi-for quality of teammates is relatively the same, so Nutivaara isn’t playing well just because he’s being paired with players like Jones.

Seth Jones is also having another great season. Last season, his Corsi-for quality of competition was a 49.91%. Meaning that the competition controlled the puck more than Jones did while on the ice. Currently, it sits at a 50.16%, meaning now Jones controls the puck more than his competition. While this number is barely above 50 percent, Jones is facing some of the hardest players on the opposing team. His Corsi-for quality of teammates is a 50.13%, so whether being paired with Werenski or Nutivaara it doesn’t make that much of a difference. Which is why it’s no surprise that his relative Corsi-for is a 7.3. Seth Jones is at the head of the Columbus Blue Jackets defense corps.

The Bad

Last season, David Savard and Jack Johnson were the perfect shutdown pair. Now, the two are split up due to their struggling together. 

Johnson’s numbers are not good, his relative Corsi-for is a -7.67%. It’s not because of whoever he’s playing with. His Corsi-for quality of teammates is a 52.05%. Last season, the team’s save percentage while Johnson was on the ice was a 93.7%. Now, it’s a 91.1%.

This could be due to the fact that Johnson’s turning 31 soon, his decline is not that far off in the future. Last season could have been just a fluke and now this is the Johnson that’s permanent. Johnson’s numbers so far are closer to the ones from season past, excluding last year. 

The injuries have also caused the Columbus Blue Jackets defense corps to scramble. With Ryan Murray out since November and Werenski missing a handful of games, there were some changes.

Gabriel Carlsson and Scott Harrington both saw more ice time. While Carlsson needs more conditioning in the AHL and Harrington should only be used when necessary. The injuries and bad play caused Savard and Johnson to be paired with Harrington or Carlsson.

Murray’s absence has left a bigger hole than expected. With Murray’s return on the horizon, the defense will be getting some much need stability on the third pair. This also means that Carlsson will be able to go back to the AHL to get more ice time and develop.

Growing Pains

The defensive corps is young and facing a challenge they didn’t have last year, expectations. Last season, no one expected them to be good, no one expected Nutivaara or the bounce back of Jack Johnson. Now, they have to be good, because fans are expecting them to be.

With injuries and young players making their way into the line-up, it’s tough to get the stability they had last season. That doesn’t mean there are any excuses, this team is more than capable of rising to those expectations. It just means that as the team gets younger, with Johnson more than likely gone after this season, there will be growing pains.

This also means it’s up to the older players to lead by example, to not make simple mistakes or get careless. Which at times it looks like that is what veterans like Savard and Johnson are doing.

Despite the season half over, there is still plenty of time for the defense and its players to bounce back.
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  1. I think the issue with Savard and Johnson is they tried to be Jones and Werenski and stopped being Savard and Johnson. They’re not fast enough to go up the ice and get back for the D play like the younger two. Jack has a pretty good shot but when your on the ice with your 3rd line (full of AHL call ups) they will inevitably forget to cover high when the D goes low. But, I have been completely disappointed in Johnson’s play this year. He seems slower, doesn’t check as hard and gives up bad passes. Savard tried to hard to go up the ice earlier in the season causing odd man rushes. Lately he’s been hanging back more and that’s a good thing. Not every defensemen needs to pinch at every opportunity. He had more points when he controlled his blue line and fired wrist shots that were deflected last year. I still think Savard is a good defensemen, he just needs to only be a defensemen.


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