For roughly half the season, the Columbus Blue Jackets held the top power play in the league. Things have changed.
Up until January, they used the man advantage to take control of games and win some tight contests. Now, the power play has lost its mojo and has become problematic for a team looking to do damage in the postseason. Since February 1, the Jackets have converted on only six man-up opportunities out of 54 (11.1%). Contrast that percentage to the 27.4% the Jackets PP operated from opening night to Jan. 1.
In Wednesday’s loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Jackets failed to convert on a five-minute power play, which was actually extended to a six and a half minute man advantage due to a penalty box debacle of the Leafs. The Jackets only tallied one shot in that entire time frame, amounting to a pretty horrendous-looking power play. They got set up in the offensive zone maybe twice and didn’t create any good looks. For the majority of their power play they were chasing the puck back into their own end.
Even in a victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday afternoon, the power play was strikingly bad, failing to convert on two opportunities without registering a shot on goal on either. That just can’t happen. Four minutes with a man-advantage and no shots on goal? Unacceptable.
How Can It Be This Bad?
There has been a lack of PP chances this season as Columbus sits last in PP opportunities. Even when they weren’t getting many chances in the early goings of the season, they were converting at a high rate. But in the last couple months, they aren’t making the most of their man-advantages at all.
It’s possible that teams took notice of their hot power play early and created a game plan of taking less penalties. It could also just be complete coincidence why the Jackets find themselves on the man advantage less than any other team in the NHL.
Dirty little secret w #CBJ: the power play hasn't just "cooled off" since hot start. It's been awful, lowlighted by 5-minute debacle on Wed.
— Aaron Portzline (@Aportzline) March 23, 2017
For the most part, they operate with the same PP units, entry and offensive setup. Maybe teams have found the cure to stop it or maybe it’s just the power play coming back down to earth. But their power play early in the year looked like an unstoppable force so it’s frustrating to watch it fail now. It’s also becoming increasingly frustrating for the players as they might have gotten accustomed to scoring so much and now nothing is going for them while on the man advantage.
Whatever the reason, there’s not one that’s good enough to excuse their power play woes. In my opinion, the Jackets power play doesn’t need to be at the level it was early in the year, but at the very least, they need it to create momentum – something it hasn’t done of late.
How Good Does It Have to Be?
Here I am getting pretty worked up about the Jackets’ power play being really bad only to find out that the power play isn’t actually all that important in the playoffs. According to Sporting Charts, only three of the past 14 Stanley Cup champions finished the regular season with a top-10 power play. Furthermore, only eight of the last 28 teams to compete in the Stanley Cup Finals held a top-10 power play. Killing off penalties is clearly more emphasized with 11 of the past 14 Stanley Cup champs finishing with a top-10 penalty kill.
Columbus is ninth in the league on both the power play (20.9%) and the penalty kill (83.1%) so they’re right on the edge of the good side. A great power play can propel a team to the Finals but the evidence does prove the penalty kill to be weighted higher in the playoffs.
So Jackets fans, if the team continues to struggle on the power play in the final eight games of the regular season, don’t fret too much. It’ll be tough, but in the long run I don’t think their falling percentage will come back to bite them as much as I originally thought.
(All stats courtesy of NHL.com, unless otherwise stated)