Call it a tale of two months. In October and into early November, the Columbus Blue Jackets power play was atrocious.
Through the first 15 games of the season, the club (5-7-3) had scored six power-play goals (and given up four shorthanded goals to boot) on 48 chances (12.5%), 27th in the NHL. Hell, they were shooting 7.79%, about two percentage points lower than the NHL average - at 5v5.
In the eight games since, the Blue Jackets (5-2-1) have scored on nine of their 29 chances (31%), 5th in the NHL. In that period, their shooting percentage mushroomed to 21.95%, 3rd highest in the league. Heading into Wednesday night's game against the Philadelphia Flyers, the team boasts the 13th ranked power play in the NHL - a sure sign of how quickly things can change.
In reality, the club is probably somewhere between 5th and 27th, but after several years with a disastrous power-play, even league-average would be a win.
What is causing this uptick in success?
Shooting sub-eight percent on the power play - even a futile one - is insane. As boring a solution as it is, it was only a matter of time before the team's numbers "regressed" to the mean. If anything, their shooting percentage has swung unrealistically far in the opposite direction over the past eight games.
The underlying numbers prove that point, too. Per NaturalStatTrick, the Blue Jackets generated 13.84 high-danger chances/60 minutes (HFCF/60) in the first 15 games of the season. Remember, they scored just six goals in those games. In the eight games since, they've improved - marginally - up to 13.96 HDCF/60. Ironically, their position in the rankings for that metric has changed significantly even though their HDCF/60 rate has barely changed at all. In the first time-frame, they were 30th in the NHL (beating only Tampa Bay?!), whereas in the past eight games, they're up to 23rd.
That's puck luck.
Paul MacLean has been behind the bench for just three games, so it's not entirely fair to give him all of the credit for a power-play that was 25% (4/16) over the five games before he was even physically there, but credit where it's due. In his three games (small sample size alert), the club has scored on five of 13 attempts (38.5%).
Has he made changes to the power play? I'm sure he has. But sometimes, it's just a matter of a new voice using new terminology. It's hard to say that causation equals correlation, but in this instance, perhaps it really is as simple as that.
While many fans clamored for a coaching change, the truth is, the players are responsible for executing. Most of the NHL runs the same 1-3-1 formation.
But something has changed - the players playing on the power play. According to LeftWingLock, a useful resource for line combinations, the Blue Jackets have iced their (formerly) second unit power-play for over 54% of the power play over the past three games.
That's right, the old guard, featuring Seth Jones, Cam Atkinson, and Alexander Wennberg, has taken a back seat to Oliver Bjorkstrand, Gus Nyquist, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Boone Jenner, and Zach Werenski.
Werenski, particularly, looks really comfortable as the quarterback, and his 3-6-9 point streak over his past seven is a good reason for the increase in confidence. But he's far from alone. The entire unit has scored a power-play goal in the past five games. So, too, have Jones and Atkinson.
The Blue Jackets power play has been a roller coaster all season, and they most likely fall somewhere between the 5th place rate of late and 27th of earlier this season. But between a bit of puck luck (finally), a recent coaching change (finally), and finding a group of players that are using their strengths well as a unit (finally), there's no reason to think it's not any worse than a league-average power play for the rest of the season.