When it comes to the Columbus Blue Jackets power play, any sort of breakthrough seems like a major accomplishment. It’s wild inconsistency has been a sore spot amongst fans and the team for several seasons now.
But maybe, just maybe, we might finally have some tiny signs of life. After going through the qualifier series with no power play goals scored, the Blue Jackets will enter Saturday night’s Game 3 against the Tampa Bay Lightning with power-play goals scored in back-to-back games.
It took just 2:39 into Game 1 for the Blue Jackets to breakthrough. It was nothing complicated either. It was a shot by Alex Texier that was deflected by Pierre-Luc Dubois. A simple play got good results. That’s one baby step forward.
Then in Game 2, the Blue Jackets were established in the zone. Once again the duo of Texier and Dubois made things happen. Texier retrieved the puck and found Dubois behind the net. Then he quickly found Bjorkstrand in the circle. Bjorkstrand fired his one timer past Andrei Vasilevskiy to score the eventual game-winning goal. That’s baby step number two.
Bjorkstarnd, Werenski, Torts React
The Blue Jackets know if they are going to eventually get past the Lightning, their special teams have to shine. Bjorkstrand thinks it’s coming. He told us why he thinks so. It comes down to execution.
“I think it’s just our mindset,” Bjorkstrand said. “We’re just making the plays. Yeah I think that’s what starts us making better plays out there & not making bad decisions.”
The power play’s inconsistency led the Blue Jackets to add Paul MacLean to their staff. He is there specifically to coach the power play. Zach Werenski recognizes the value MacLean brings to the team and hopes these recent baby steps turn into something bigger.
“Hopefully we can keep that working moving forward,” Werenski said. “You know in the playoffs special teams is a big part of success. With MacLean, he’s someone who has been around hockey for a long time and knows his stuff. (We’re) just trying to listen to him and what he sees and what he wants us to execute out there. And as players, we have to go try and do it. He’s been awesome for us.”
And while some goals have started to come, Tortorella understands there is a long way to go for the power play. The key is finding some consistency.
“I’m just hoping we can get it more consistent,” Tortorella said. “We had a chance in the third period to give us a little bit of breathing room and we spent it in our endzone with them forechecking. There’s still a ways to go with that. I leave it to Mac (Paul MacLean). I’m not in the meetings with them. Mac is taking care of that. As the series goes on, special teams comes more to the forefront. Hopefully we can get more consistent with it.”
It’s At least a Start
Baby steps. The Blue Jackets have started making some strides on their power play and it has resulted in goals in two consecutive games. They must build off of that now. If they hope to get consistent in this area, it is going to come down to execution of plays.
It doesn’t have to be complicated. Put a man in the front of the net consistently. Shoot the puck when you have an open look. If anything, they just need to simplify their approach. Don’t get too cute. Take what’s given to you and then make the best of it. You have one more man on the ice than they do. Someone should be open assuming you make a good plan.
If this can somehow become more of a model of consistency, it would make the Blue Jackets an even more dangerous opponent. Keep it simple. The results are starting to come. It could ultimately make the difference in this series.
- In watching the tape of the first two games, two major themes stand out to me.
- First, and this was more noticeable in Game 1, the Lightning are making a point to shoot from anywhere on the ice and quickly. They realize how good the Blue Jackets are at getting into position. Once Victor Hedman or someone gets the puck, it’s off their stick and towards the net. They believe their skill will ultimately win out by burying second and third chances. Give the Blue Jackets credit for doing a great job at puck management even with this early Lightning approach. Although this didn’t happen in Game 2 as much, expect them to go back to this approach in Game 3.
- Second, the Lightning are sending a forechecker at the puck carrier quickly especially on the power play. Teams have demonstrated that applying pressure on the Blue Jackets is a successful approach. It forces the puck carrier into making a quicker decision on his next play. This has led to forced and rushed passes that are easily picked off and sent the other way. This is why the Blue Jackets must simplify their approach. They need to know as soon as the puck hits their stick that someone will come at them at full speed. They need to set up plays where that aggressiveness could hurt them. To me, it emphasizes the importance of movement away from the puck and finding the spot in the zone where the Lightning are vulnerable.
- Bjorkstrand’s goal in Game 2 is a perfect example of this. When Dubois got the puck behind the goal line, he not only saw Bjorkstrand in the circle, he didn’t hesitate getting the puck to him. Then Bjorkstrand didn’t hesitate shooting the puck. The Lightning had no time to react. But it was a simple play. There’s opportunity for success. It will be especially up to the point men to read the situation and make the right play as Bjorkstrand said earlier.
- Let’s turn our attention to Game 3. Tortorella had no updates on any of the injured, so Elvis Merzlikins and Cam Atkinson’s statuses remain unknown. It was interesting to see the team added goalie Veini Vehvilainen to the bubble. That could imply a lengthy absence for Merzlikins. But when we asked Tortorella to elaborate he said “I have no idea.” There is no morning availability so we’ll get lineups at warmups and closer to puck drop.
- The net belongs to Joonas Korpisalo until further notice.
- Steven Stamkos continues to remain out indefinitely. Coach Jon Cooper said on Friday that “He’s been rehabbing. That’s all I can say.” With injury updates being put to a stop, it’s hard to say where he’s at in the process of returning. All we can do is wait and see if he takes the warmup for Game 3.
- Ryan Murray played under 10 minutes in Game 2. He scored an important goal in the first period to tie the game. This was curious for me given his injury history. I asked Tortorella Friday if they were intentionally limiting his minutes given injury history or if this was more the flow of the game. Tortorella did say it wasn’t injury related and that assistant coach Brad Shaw is the one running the defense and making those decisions. With as much hockey as the Blue Jackets have played, I will be watching Murray closely to see how he’s being used.
- As for the rest of the lineup, we’ll see at warmups. The fourth line was sparingly used as you might expect with Emil Bemstrom, Eric Robinson and Devin Shore each getting under seven minutes. Will Tortorella go back to them especially if Atkinson can’t play? The Lightning have done a better job of rolling four lines more consistently. Can the Blue Jackets find a combination down there that will work and give them quality minutes?
- Game 3 is a 7:30 P.M. eastern start and can be seen on Fox Sports Ohio, Fox Sports Sun and NBCSN.
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2021-22 season will mark eight seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.