Top-Loaded Power Play Unit Would Benefit Blue Jackets' Success Rate

By Chris Pennington on July 22, 2020 at 7:02 am
Columbus Blue Jackets center Pierre-Luc Dubois (18) celebrates with defenseman Seth Jones (3) after scoring the game winning goal during the overtime period against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden.
Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Spreading the wealth is sometimes a good strategy.

That time is not now, though.

The Columbus Blue Jackets take on the Toronto Maple Leafs in the NHL's Playoff Qualifying Round in less than two weeks, and their special teams will be a huge difference-maker in the outcome of the series. 

Mainly that of their power play, which was ranked in the bottom-five of the league during this past regular season. With the free agency departures they had, though, along with their perpetual history of a miserable man-advantage, this wasn't the most surprising thing to come out of this campaign.

However, this needs to, and can, change against Toronto. Here's how.

The Blue Jackets, like many teams in the league, have liked to spread out their talent on their power play units. This usually means one of Zach Werenski or Seth Jones is with the second group, and Nick Foligno or Boone Jenner might jump up with the top group instead of Pierre-Luc Dubois or Gus Nyquist.

There are a lot of reasons power play units struggle. Sometimes it's the coaching, the layout, or just overall talent. So I'm not saying the only reason the Blue Jackets have struggled on the man-advantage this year is that they water-down their top unit, but I think it's a big one. 

Columbus scored 31 power play goals this year. Of those 31, 22 of them were scored between Pierre-Luc Dubois, Zach Werenski, Emil Bemstrom, Seth Jones, Gus Nyquist, Oliver Bjorkstrand and Cam Atkinson. The others who consistently got power play time - Kevin Stenlund, Nick Foligno, Boone Jenner, Alexander Wennberg, Dean Kukan, Ryan Murray, Vladislav Gavrikov - had a combined nine goals.

On top of that - the first group I first mentioned, who spent time on both the top and bottom units, had an abundance of contributions in the assist department as well, with 41 combined between the seven of them. The second group of eight skaters, who also spent time on both the top and bottom units, had just 12 assists combined.

Now, this probably sounds like circular reason, and it probably is. The better players should play because they're better. But I think especially in the playoffs, and especially when it comes to a man-advantage opportunity, when you have a greater quantity of players than the opposing team, why would you not at all times try and have the greatest quality of players on the ice?

In a situation where positioning is fluid like on a power play, additionally, it makes even more sense that Columbus should stack their top unit with five of the seven skaters I've been mentioning. As of now, Toronto has Morgan Reilly, John Tavares, Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews on the same unit. They are also sixth in the league in power play percentage. They're clearly content with loading up their top squad.

To be fair, the Blue Jackets obviously have less talent than that Maple Leafs' lineup offensively, but shouldn't that be even more of a reason to stack the deck? Why not send your best five out for a minute and 20 seconds, and if they can't get it done, then toss out the second group, and hope they don't give up a short-handed goal.

Now, I may be preaching to the choir, and it seems like this is something the team may already be doing (see tweet below), but I felt like this was a necessary point to make, based on the lineups from the regular season.

By the looks of it, which could change at any time, John Tortorella and Brad Shaw have Bjorkstrand, Jones, Werenski, Nyquist and Dubois on the top unit. You could make an argument for Atkinson or Bemstrom subbing somewhere there, but other than that, it shouldn't change at all.

Again, against a high-powered team like Toronto, the Blue Jackets need to find scoring somewhere. And if safe is death, why not swing for the fences on the power play? 

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