The Columbus Dispatch
Blue Jackets finding success on once-dismal power play
Remember when the Blue Jackets could barely enter the offensive zone on power plays and would even get outshot?
That describes the bulk of the past six years in Columbus, but it’s no longer the case. Believe it or not, the Blue Jackets have become a dangerous bunch on power plays and might just be warming up.
Patrik Laine’s tally in the first period of a 5-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues Saturday night at Nationwide Arena marked the fifth straight game in which Columbus has scored at least one power-play goal. It was the ninth time in the past 12 games the Blue Jackets scored on the man advantage, bringing the success rate in those games to a scorching 29% (9 for 31).
“For an extended period of time here, they’ve been pretty dangerous,” coach Brad Larsen said. “We follow all the analytics, too, and the danger areas, how we’re scoring and expected (goals) and all that, and those numbers have really been improving. Then in the last four-to-five weeks, you’re getting rewarded and scoring – and they feel it.”
Nobody’s feeling better than Laine. After an injury-plagued start, the Finnish winger has steadily raised his goal-scoring pace on power plays and at even strength. His goal against the Blues completed a beautiful play with Johnny Gaudreau, who received a cross-ice feed from Laine and quickly returned it for a one-timer from the left circle.
It was just the second primary assist from Gaudreau to Laine on a power-play goal this season, but those could start to increase in frequency the longer they’re teammates. It was Laine’s seventh power-play goal and second in the Blue Jackets’ past 12 games. He has 21 goals overall.
Laine, however, isn’t the only reason for the Blue Jackets’ recent success.
Gaudreau, captain Boone Jenner, rookie Kirill Marchenko and Adam Boqvist are also zipping the puck around on the first power-play unit and there isn’t much of a letdown with a second group that includes Jack Roslovic,
Emil Bemstrom, Cole Sillinger, Kent Johnson and Nick Blankenburg.
“We’re moving our feet and playing with the puck a little bit more throughout games, so we’re getting more opportunities,” Gaudreau said. “You go through ups and downs throughout the year, and right now, the power play’s getting a lot of looks, and we’re getting some good chemistry and getting rewarded.”
It’s hard to believe this is the same team that began the season 0 for 26 on power plays and went 1 for 7 in a 6-3 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Nov. 4 in Finland, when Jakub Voracek finally ended the drought.
Voracek and star defenseman Zach Werenski sustained season-ending injuries within the next week, and the Blue Jackets at that point had already lost Boqvist — a skilled defenseman — to a broken foot. Blankenburg sustained a long-term ankle injury. Jake Bean required shoulder surgery, so the Blue Jackets didn’t have many choices to run the point for each unit.
Marcus Bjork, a rookie, handled that role for the top group and former Blue Jackets defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov was tabbed for the second group. Results continued to lag until Boqvist and Blankenburg returned to fill those roles.
Boqvist, specifically, has shined with 3-5-8 and four power-play assists in his past 11 games.
“He’s a skilled guy and that’s one of his things he’s good at,” Larsen said. “I’m sure for him, getting that extended time (with the top unit), you start to feel more comfortable and build some chemistry and having a right shot up there rather than a lefty … that changes the dynamic.” firstname.lastname@example.org @Brianhedger