The Columbus Blue Jackets Power Play Ranks Last In The NHL, And Immediate Help Is Not On The Way

By Dan Dukart on January 19, 2023 at 1:45 pm
Patrik Laine and Johnny Gaudreau celebrate a goal
Gaelen Morse-USA TODAY Sports

The Columbus Blue Jackets have the worst power play in the NHL.

Add it to the list of woes in this nightmare of a season.

At just 14.4% (17/118), the Blue Jackets have a long list of issues. Not only is 17 goals five fewer than the club with the 31st-most, but their 118 power-play opportunities are also dead last in the league. Even worse, the Blue Jackets have given up five shorthanded goals, tied for sixth-worst in the NHL, meaning that even when they do get an apparently rare power play opportunity, there's a fairly decent chance - especially by percentage - that the team not only doesn't score but actually concedes a goal against.

As it stands, the club has gone six consecutive games without a goal. In their past 10 games, the club has gone just 3/26, an 11.5% goal rate. 

It's easy to point blame, and there's plenty of that to go around. The Blue Jackets coaching staff has been under fire for years, going back to John Tortorella, for having a weak power play. And while I definitely don't exonerate Brad Larsen and co., the reality is that personnel matters, too.

Zach Werenski was supposed to be the power-play quarterback. With him running the show, the power play was pretty bad. Without him, it's even worse. Jakub Voracek led the team in points a season ago and had 25 points on the power play. His absence has also hurt the power play. Johnny Gaudreau leads the team with 10 power-play points, but all of them are assists. That's right, over the halfway mark in the season and Gaudreau has 0 power-play goals! In theory, that's because he's been busy setting up Patrik Laine opposite him on the 1-3-1 setup, but Laine has struggled as well and has scored just one goal this year on the power play. 

Part of the issue is that the team has a difficult time creating high-danger chances. There are basically two ways to manufacture such looks: sublime, ridiculous talent; and creating chaos off of broken plays. This team lacks the high-end skill of the top power play units, and for whatever reason, is unable/unwilling to take the available shot, perhaps because they perceive it as playing into the penalty kills hand To be clear, I'm not advocating for haphazardly shooting with no traffic/immediately, but at a certain point, simplicity should win out. 

In the fall, I noted that this team lacks a true bumper player, though it looks like Kirill Marchenko could become that player. In 21 games in the NHL, Marchenko has three power-play goals and looks like the type of player that could be part of the solution. And Boone Jenner, despite his lack of high-end offensive chops, is steady as she comes, and five of his 11 goals this season have come on the power play.

Over the past three games, the club has rolled out a first power play unit of Gaudreau, Jenner, Marchenko, Laine, and quarterback Adam Boqvist, and a second unit of Emil Bemstrom, Kent Johnson, Jack Roslovic, Gus Nyquist, and Nick Blankenburg.    

A league median power play would have the Blue Jackets scoring ~25 goals, eight more than their current tally. Eight goals aren't the difference between them being a lottery and a playoff team (consider how indicting that statement is), but the reality is that it's been a struggle for goals. Even an optimistic outlook, with Werenski and Voracek back in the fold, doesn't appear to be the reprieve necessary to get this team to even a league-average power play.

Instead, the hope is that young players like Johnson (2 PPGs) and Marchenko (3 PPGs) continue to take steps. It's not terribly difficult to imagine a successful power play with those two, Laine, Gaudreau, and Werenski. But at the same time, Blue Jackets fans have been conditioned to expect a weak power play, and I'll believe it when I see it.