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Power play breakdown — analyzing the early Blue Jackets' success

It’s more than just a few new faces.

Carolina Hurricanes v Columbus Blue Jackets Photo by Ben Jackson/NHLI via Getty Images

It’s no secret that the Columbus Blue Jackets’ power play has struggled over the last several seasons. Even with talents like Cam Atkinson, Patrik Laine, and Oliver Bjorkstrand, the team was consistently at the bottom of the league in power play conversion. With the new season budding, however, hope has arrived. The Jackets currently sit at 26.3% on the year and look dangerous on the man advantage more often than not. So what’s the big difference so far?

I should add a disclaimer to this article. I am not, never have been, and never will be a hockey X’s and O’s expert. I’ve never even played the game. I wanted to attempt to break down the new and improved power play anyway.

Zone Entries

Arguably the biggest difference in the power play this season has been the zone entries. Unlike previous seasons, the majority of the man advantage time has not been spent trying to get set up in the zone. The most notable changes are more speed through the neutral zone and multiple predefined options.

It appears that the goal of each zone entry, which is likely a given, is to use the extra man to give the defense too many bodies to cover on the entry. In the first example, Bjorkstrand carried the puck through the middle of the neutral zone while the three leading skaters set up at the blue line. By the time Bjorkstrand reached the blue line, the defense was already outmanned.

Sometimes deception is needed for this plan to work. In the next clip, Laine had a man standing between him and a clean entry. Instead of trying to force it into the zone or dumping it in deep, he dropped a quick pass to the trailer Voracek. Jake was then able to skate into the zone and drop a pass to the waiting Bjorkstrand, who then will either gather it or pass it back to Voracek, depending on what the defenders do.

It appears that the coaching staff has done a good job at giving the players an entry plan and multiple ways to execute that plan. Not only has it led to more controlled entries on the power play, but it has also paid dividends at even strength.

Quick Passes

One of the major criticisms of the past was that players would sometimes hang onto the puck for too long. Another aspect of the power play that’s been noticeable is the quicker passing. It’s important to keep the defense moving and thinking. In the below clip, a touch pass from Bjorkstrand gave Werenski an open shooting lane.

If we take a look at a similar setup, a few quick passes moved the Islander defense just enough to give Voracek a shooting lane. The end result was a double deflection goal that likely would have been a blocked shot otherwise.

I’ve also noticed Sillinger and Chinakhov doing this well - not hanging onto the puck too long and making smart, quick passes. The front office is intentionally adding players that think the game quickly and the coaching staffs seems to be leaning in.

Movement

How many times over the last few seasons did you find yourself shouting “MOVE” during a Blue Jackets power play? This year’s team has done a much better job of moving their feet on the man advantage. You’ll often see Laine or Voracek rotate the point with Werenski. That’s a key part of the power play, but it’s also important that those off the puck are moving as well.

Perhaps the most dangerous threat on the power play is Laine. In the next clip, Voracek attacked along the wall to get the Dallas defense moving. Werenski and Bjorkstrand both moved over to draw the defense to one side. From there, a few quick passes gave Laine a nice shooting lane.

In a much more subtle way, Werenski made a similar move against Detroit. He moved toward the wall at the point and gave a quick pass to Laine. At the same time, Bjorkstrand moved up in the zone. This left only one Detroit defender down low. A quick pass to Voracek and a small shift from Jenner left him all alone. A nifty backhander led to another power play goal.

There appear to be two main contributing factors to the early power play success: the new coaching staff and Jake Voracek. There’s clearly a new system in place that emphasizes controlled entries, quick passes, and more movement on and off the puck. However, it’s hard to miss the dynamic play that Voracek has added to the power play. In many of the above examples, it’s number 93 that’s the catalyst behind a quality chance. Time will tell whether or not this new look power play can sustain long-term success, but it’s certainly heading in the right direction.