The Columbus Blue Jackets' Once Dominating Power Play is Struggling

By Jason Priestas on March 28, 2017 at 10:06 am
Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella reacts to a call from the bench.
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

This is the story of the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Power Play.

Okay, maybe that's a bit harsh. But if you've followed the Blue Jackets this season, you've watched the production of what was once the NHL's top power play unit fall right off a cliff.

For whatever reason, the Jackets' power play, which led the league at a 28.3% clip up through the end of the franchise best 16-game winning streak has been among the NHL's worst units since the streak ended.

The stats are startling: just six power play goals in the last 28 games, zero goals up a man in nine attempts over the last six games – and six weeks prior, Columbus struggled during a nine game stretch that saw them go 0-for-14 on the advantage. 

Since the winning streak ended, the Blue Jackets are just 11-90 (12.2%) on power plays, including an awful February that saw the team convert on just two of 26 chances. That's Colorado Avalanche territory – owners of the league's worst power play unit, converting just 12.4% of the times on the season.

Here's a chart showing the Blue Jacket's power play efficiency by month this season. It's thoroughly NSFW:

Chart: Columbus Blue Jackets Power Play Efficiency by Month

This is not supposed to happen to a team in hot pursuit of the President's Trophy. Honestly, it's a testament to how balanced this team is – not to mention how great Sergei Bobrovsky has been between the pipes – that they're 13–4–2 over their last 19 games, despite going just 6 of 42 (14.3%) on the power play.

So, why the slump? That's a great question and I'm sure John Tortorella would pay you handsomely for the answer.

The Jackets' No. 1 power play, consisting of Zach Werenski, Sam Gagner, Cam Atkinson, Nick Foligno and Alexander Wennberg, has been a static unit all season. The group has largely avoided injuries and has good chemistry on the ice together.

The second unit, currently featuring Seth Jones, Brandon Dubinsky, Scott Hartnell, Brandon Saad and William Karlsson/Boone Jenner at the moment, has been more fluid, due to injuries, but many of the players in this group were part of the team's early season success on the power play.

Tortorella is planning to shake things up, however.

“We've changed some things up a little here,” Tortorella said Monday when discussing the team's power play. “It's not only struggling, it's taking some momentum away. We've tried some different personnel [in practice], to spread them out among the two groups.

COLUMBUS Power Play Splits
TOTAL 41 196 20.9%
WINS 35 133 26.3%
LOSSES 6 63 9.52%
HOME 22 106 20.8%
ROAD 19 90 21.1%
OCTOBER 6 18 33.3%
NOVEMBER 9 36 25.0%
DECEMBER 13 48 27.1%
JANUARY 7 40 17.5%
FEBRUARY 2 26 7.7%
MARCH 4 28 14.3%
PRE-STREAK 15 53 28.3%
STREAK 15 53 28.3%
POST-STREAK 11 90 12.2%

“It is stale. We've tried stay with it as long as we can with the two groups because it was very effective for most of the year.”

Tortorella did hint that Jones may slide up into the first unit to take advantage of his tendency to shoot, replacing Werenski. We'll find out soon whether that lights a spark.

What about the 1–3–1 the team rolls on the power play? Could it just be that other teams have seen enough of it on tape this year and have figured it out?

“A little bit, but the onus is on us,“ Tortorella said, dismissing that theory. “We've struggled to make some plays when the plays have been there. A big part, and really the strength of our power play through most of the year, was our entries. That's been a struggle, too, as far as entering. You could sense the frustration grow when we couldn't even enter the zone.”

Maybe it's because the Blue Jackets aren't getting enough opportunities.

Surprisingly, Columbus ranks last in the NHL in power play opportunities this season, with just 196 chances. Carolina, the No. 29 team in power play attempts, has 208, while Tampa Bay leads the league with 258.

It's not often that you see one of the league's best teams at the bottom of the pack when it comes to drawing man advantages. Again, speaking to their depth and superior goaltending, the Blue Jackets are finding ways to win, despite not converting on power plays, nor really drawing as many as a team of their caliber should.

Practice is great, but nothing beats game situations when it comes to fine-tuning special teams.

Whatever the cause, it's on the coach and team's mind, and it's something they'll need to square away before the games start to truly count.

View 3 Comments