Three Ways to Help Revive the Blue Jackets Power Play

By Chris Pennington on August 25, 2018 at 9:10 am
Pierre-Luc Dubois, Artemi Panarin & Cam Atkinson
Russell LaBounty – USA TODAY Sports
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It was never a great thing last season when a penalty was called in favor of the Blue Jackets, and fans didn't know if they should cheer or groan.

The Columbus Blue Jackets had statistically one of their worst power play seasons ever in 2017-2018. They ranked fourth-worst in the league with power play goals scored with 39, almost half of what the Pittsburgh Penguins had (the leader in the league).

The club has consistently hovered around the top-ten area in the league the past five seasons in terms of power play scoring percentage, but made a significant drop-off to No. 25 this past season.

What needs to change?

And maybe the more appropriate question to start with is, what happened?

The Jackets 2016-2017 first-unit power play consisted of only a fraction of the current top crew. Sam Gagner (Wow), Nick Folingo, Alexander Wennberg, Cam Atkinson and Zach Werenski rounded out the unit, with Wennberg and Atkinson being the only two remaining on the top line. 

This past season, Artemi Panarin, Seth Jones and Pierre-Luc Dubois were added in to accompany Wennberg and Atkinson. One would think that adding those three could only improve the man-advantage, but it was somehow made worse.

At first, it seemed like a learning curve, with more than half of the unit being replaced. The club picked up their pace after the all-star break, and seemed primed going into the playoffs.

But after scoring four power play goals in the first two games of their first round matchup against the Washington Capitals, the Jackets went scoreless on the man-advantage in four straight loses, resulting in series elimination.

John Tortorella and the rest of the Blue Jackets coaching staff know that things need to change going into this fall. Not making adjustments is out of the question.

So, finally, what could be changed (besides adding Kessel, Malkin and Crosby)? Here's three adjustments the Jackets could make to help their power play get back on track:

Bring Back Zach

Zach Werenski was on the second power play unit this past season, and it might be wise to put him back on the first. Werenski sees the ice like a veteran, and has one of the better shots on the team.

He was tied for second on the team in power play points during the 2016-2017 season with 21 (when he was on the first unit). He was certainly missed.

I mean, c'mon, how much more perfect can a shot get?

Wennberg is a solid player, but he's a pass first guy, and on the power play, shooting is pretty important. He clearly wasn't even flourishing as a passer, only have two power play assists the entire season, all while being on the first unit. Zach can take his spot.

Change the Formation

The Blue Jackets power play structure last season ran out of an 'umbrella' format typically. This meant that the 'shade' of the umbrella was Atkinson, Panarin and Jones, with Dubois and Wennberg being the 'pole'. Here's an example, pause the video at 5:06 to see the formation more clearly:

Though he scores in this, in general, Atkinson isn't the most skilled at moving laterally, and this is a necessary skill when being in a puck-handler position like the top of an umbrella format.

Sliding Werenski into his spot and having Cam go down low on the back door with Dubois would be sneaky dangerous. Have him camp out on the goal line and be ready for any loose pucks. We've seen him score quick goals around the crease many times.

Three versatile puck handlers in Jones, Panarin and Werenski being able to feed each other and Dubois and Atkinson down low might work very well.

Pick up the Pace

A less practical adjustment, but very needed. The Jackets have executed their neutral zone drop pass to enter into the offensive zone for what seems like a decade, and it has been snuffed out by nearly every team in the league.

Their entrance into the zone is methodical and predictable, and a clear factor to their placement as a poor power play team.

Watch how quickly the Capitals enter the zone for this goal. They play aggressive and risky, which you can absolutely do one man up. They catch the Jackets on their heels because they enter the zone with four guys skating hard. Boom.

The Jackets without a doubt have the talent for a lethal power play, they just need to be put in a position to execute properly.

What are adjustments you would make as a coach to see the main-advantage flourish for Columbus?

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