Let’s talk facts about the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Fact: The Columbus Blue Jackets have the highest PDO in the league.
Fact: John Tortorella coaches the Columbus Blue Jackets.
There. That takes care of those most often cited ones.
While we’re at it, let’s add a couple more:
Fact: The Columbus Blue Jackets are on a 15-game winning streak.
Fact: The Columbus Blue Jackets are 8th in the NHL in score-adjusted scoring chance %.
Fact: The Columbus Blue Jackets are 9th in the NHL in score-adjusted Fenwick %.
Fact: The Columbus Blue Jackets are 10th in the NHL score-adjusted Corsi %.
Okay! That’s all well and good. Let’s move on.
CBJ Before The Streak
There’s a lot of nonsense about how bad CBJ were prior to their amazing win streak and how this streak came out of nowhere and is a pure fluke. They had won games while being outshot and out-attempting, relying on Vezina-worthy goaltending, a historic powerplay and a very high PDO. I know, we all hate PDO right now, but please bear with me, as we will have to tackle this a bit later.
None of those things above are untrue. In the first 20 games of the season, they had been outshot 12 times in all situations, and out-attempted 11 times at 5v5, yet still managed to post an 11-5-4 record. Call it luck, call it capitalizing on opportunities, call it whatever you want. It happened.
But in those 20 games, was there anything that would indicate that the team would stop playing “rely on scoring on every shot” hockey? Well, I mean, they won 11 of them, so clearly they had something working. Another thing was that after about 13 games, there was something that seemed to “switch” for the team.
Oh, and those seven games were against four play-off teams, and one team who were in a play-off spot at the time.
The differences here are quite staggering, and pointed to something having changed, and things beginning to turn, especially since these changes continued as the wins started piling up.
So, the takeaway is that Columbus were a 50% Corsi team, and were on the right side of even strength shots, scoring chances, and high-danger chances before this streak even began. So, take the “they were a lucky, bad, team” nonsense out the window.
Let’s talk about PDO. Sorry, but we kinda have to.
If you’re unaware, here’s a primer: PDO is team shooting percentage plus save percentage.
No, seriously, that’s all it is. The name has nothing to do with what it tracks. Heck, it was named after a guy on a blog. But it holds some meaning and is a quick way to glance at the “luck” of a team, if you don’t feel like digging too much deeper into it or actually doing any sort of meaningful analysis.
The general idea is that at the end of a season, a team’s PDO will hover roughly around 100, because that’s what many, many seasons of data have shown.
Let’s head to Corsica.hockey for an example. In the history of their listed data – that is, from the 2007/08 season until 2015/16, there are 270 data points: 30 teams over 9 seasons.
47 teams (17.4%) have finished with a PDO above 101. So, just over 1 out of every 6 teams. That’s a low, but not unheard of. If we raise the qualification to a 102+ PDO, we drop significantly: only 12 teams (4.4%) have finished with a PDO over 102.
But that’s not enough. Columbus currently sports a 103.6 PDO. So how many teams have finished with a PDO at or above 103.6?
Zero teams have done it. Only one team has ever finished with a PDO above 103 at all, the 2009/10 Washington Capitals, with a 103.29.
So yeah, I get the “unsustainable” claims. Riding a PDO this high is uncharted waters. Let’s not fight that It’s going to come down. But even when it drops, it doesn’t mean the end of the world, because if the team is still good, then they will still be able to contend in games, even if they might have to (GASP) lose occasionally.
Columbus has played and beaten 14 different NHL teams of varying quality during their win streak. During that streak, in my own personal opinion, they’ve completely outplayed an opponent roughly 8 times, arguably been equals in 4 more, and been soundly destroyed everywhere but the goal total in 3 more – and those 3 were to three elite possession teams Montreal, Boston, and Los Angeles.
Which leads to our next point…
CBJ vs Play-Off Teams
One critique that has been levied against the Jackets is their performance vs play-off teams.
If we look at the numbers against teams in the play-offs as it stands today, it certainly does not flatter them:
If we expand things a bit and include teams within 5 standings points of a play-off spot (“Contenders”) and only exclude those teams that are already pretty much DOA on the season (“Pretenders”), things take a step up, but still aren’t exactly ideal, or indicating a team as elite as we’d all like to believe Columbus is:
The worst performances of the season by Columbus have been against the strongest competition. The Bruins hammered the Jackets three times, with CBJ escaping with a win in the latest encounter. Los Angeles has shown that they are still a dominant possession team, and CBJ escaped with two points. San Jose has beaten Columbus twice, both times pretty convincingly. St Louis and Montreal have both been trounced by Columbus, but also managed to own the team in their other meetings.
Fortunately, the Blue Jackets have banked points by winning a few of these games that they have no business being in, and have uniformly kicked the hell out of the bottom-feeding teams that they cannot afford to lose to. You can’t take those points away, no matter how they were achieved. But the question of just how good the team is on a grand scale is a question that might need to be asked.
It also remains to be seen how the Jackets fare in a Metro-heavy schedule, when intra-division match-ups force the top Metro teams to cannibalize one another instead of feasting on the inferior competition outside of their own six top-end teams. They’ve gotten off to a good start, with a 5-0 record against Washington (twice), the Rangers, the Islanders and the Penguins*.
A 15-game winning streak is incredibly improbable, and the numbers contained therein are going to be scale-tiltingly unsustainable.
But these Columbus Blue Jackets aren’t like some other “PDO-darling” teams that had luck hide brutality, causing over-reactive management to destroy the development of the team for years to come in hopes of re-catching lightning in a bottle.
There are real, legitimate signs that this team is very good and can be good for the remainder of the year… even if they don’t win 62 games in a row.
*The original version of this post did not include the Penguins. We apologize for the error.