It's Not Looking Pretty, But Things (Optimism?) To Consider With Struggling Blue Jackets Power Play

By Will Chase on January 25, 2022 at 10:36 pm
Columbus Blue Jackets head coach Brad Larsen looks on against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena.
John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Once again, the power play is struggling. But we're here to provide optimism.

As the Columbus Blue Jackets navigate their way through the first of what's considered a  rebuild, or retooling, or restructuring, or whatever you want to call it, we've seen some fun elements of a young team.

One unfortunate constant has been the power play. Or lack thereof.

As of Jan. 24, the Blue Jackets have the 28th ranked power play (15.0%), only ahead of the Detroit Red Wings, Washington Capitals, Montreal Canadiens, and Arizona Coyotes. It looks even bleaker: 15 goals in 100 opportunities this season.

It's hard to put your finger on what ails the power play as a whole because it's been a problem for a period of time now. But there are things to consider, as there was early optimism from the man-advantage.

From the season opener on Oct. 14 through November, the Blue Jackets were 11th in the league (21.1%).

Through Dec. 31, the Jackets' power play had slipped into a tie for 20 with the New York Rangers (17.8%). In fact, December was when the team started to dip, in part because of an 0-4 road trip that started after Thanksgiving. Then COVID postponed five games. For the month they were 28th (15%).

The struggles on the power play have been happening for far too long to use injuries and players being out of the lineup as a season-long crutch. It doesn’t help, and every team goes through it, and yet, the Blue Jackets' depth was tested once they started missing players—and having games postponed—due to COVID protocol.

In the month of January, the Blue Jackets are 31st (7.4%), or just 2-for-27. Taking it a step further, they're dead last in the league since Dec. 1 (7.0%).

Interestingly, for whatever reason, the Blue Jackets are last in the league in power play opportunities per game (2.56). The Golden Knights—obviously a much better team—are 31st in that category but their power play is 13th in the league (21.1%).

We provided hope for the man-advantage just a few weeks ago after Oliver Bjorkstrand's power play goal against the Devils on Jan. 8 snapped a month-long drought for the team without a power play goal—taking into account the five games postponed during that span. 

At that time, the Blue Jackets' No. 1 power play unit (Bjorkstrand, Boone Jenner, Patrik Laine, Jake Voracek, and Zach Werenski) had only played eight games together with different players missing time for various reasons. Most notably, Laine missed time with injury between Nov. 3 and Dec. 30.

The unit combined for seven goals and 82.14 CF%. Since then, zero goals but an 85.33 CF% and 3.8 xGF.

As an assistant, Brad Larsen’s responsibilities included the power play prior to taking over as head coach. Whether or not the problem had anything directly to do with him—John Tortorella took on blame for the struggles himself—the new staff hasn’t found the answers just yet.

The fact of the matter is the Blue Jackets simply haven’t had a competent power play since 2016-17 when it finished 19.9% and 12th in the league. In that season, they were first in the league through New Year’s Eve (27.5%) but tumbled mightily in the second half.

It's been a problem to solve ever since. That’s including having star-power like Artemi Panarin for two seasons from 2017-19 (13 goals, 39 assists on the power play), and bringing in help like Hall of Famer Martin St. Louis and Paul MacLean to the coaching staff.

There have been slight upticks here or there but nothing that seems to stick on a consistent basis. 

Cam Atkinson and Seth Jones are among those departed to have ranked among the teams' leaders in power play points in a season, but even with them, the overall percentage with a man-advantage ranked towards the bottom of the league for the club. 

Is the power play structure too predictable, too passive, too fancy?

The Blue Jackets had some big opportunities on their second man-advantage in Sunday's first period against the Ottawa Senators. Despite going 0-for-2 on the night.

Jack Roslovic walked right through traffic and found Max Domi who couldn’t beat Anton Forsberg on the doorstep. Moments later, Domi got off a one-time shot but Forsberg was there with the save.

Against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday, they controlled the offensive zone for just about the entirety of the two minutes on their first power play, but only had one shot on net. Laine had one attempt that he broke his stick on as the club was 0-for-2.

They were 0-for-3 with six shots against the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday. 

All this to say, repeated doom and gloom about the power play aside, as a whole, the offense is improved.

This year's Blue Jackets squad packs more scoring punch than recent years, to the tune of 3.03 GF/GP, sitting them 15th in the league and just ahead of the division-leading Rangers. 

The answer to the struggles might already be there.

Though there might be some more wheeling and dealing between now and the trade deadline, hopefully, a young team continues to mature and jell into a cohesive unit across the board, leading to more production on the power play.

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