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Blue Jackets feeling dangerous with new-look power play

Early returns are strong as Columbus builds chemistry within its groups

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

The Blue Jackets' top power-play unit -- or something akin to it -- has played together in two preseason games and scored three goals in that span. 

In some years, that might be enough to start a parade down Nationwide Boulevard given some of the struggles that have happened in the past, though head coach Brad Larsen offers a bit of caution at this point. 

"I don't think we start waving the pom-poms just yet," Larsen said after the top unit produced two goals in a 5-3 win at Buffalo on Monday night. 

Yet if you do the math, you could say the power-play goals were the difference in the two-goal win over the Sabres. And when you look at the personnel involved, you also can see a world where this unit puts up a pretty good showing on a consistent basis. 

"I think if you have a good power play, it's so much fun to be a part of," said Patrik Laine, himself a big part of the equation. "I felt that over the years in Winnipeg. That's one thing that is going to win us a lot of tight hockey games. … It's still preseason, but definitely happy about it." 

So even if you take the middle ground and land on some cautious optimism, there's reason to believe a unit that features Laine, Jakub Voracek, Zach Werenski, Oliver Bjorkstrand and Boone Jenner can be pretty good. 

Video: Boone goes hard to the net

The main reason is that each person can fit seamlessly into their role, which is what a power play needs to succeed. All good NHL power plays have different things they specialize in, but there are a few defining characteristics that seem to transcend things -- the ability to set up the attack via faceoff wins or zone entries, a strong net-front presence, quick and decisive puck movement to get the shorthanded team chasing the play, and then shooters who can take advantage of those open lanes. 

With apologies to a second unit that could be pretty darn good as well because of those same traits, including a new quarterback in Adam Boqvist and young snipers Cole Sillinger and Yegor Chinakhov in the mix, we'll focus on a top unit that's gotten the job done so far, in large part because each player has figured out his role.  

Filling the bumper role in the middle, Bjorkstrand can be a quick-trigger shooter, while pretty much everyone who has watched the Blue Jackets over the years knows what Werenski's shot and distribution from the top of the zone can bring to a power-play unit.  

But as you start going a bit deeper, three players might stand out. Jenner brings a lot to the table as a player who can both win faceoffs and get things done from in close at the top of the net, as he's tough enough to take the beating the job requires but skilled enough to either convert on tips or score a goal if he's open -- as he's done twice already this year in his two preseason games. 

Laine, meanwhile, needs very little introduction as a player who owns one of the most prized weapons in the NHL, an absolute cannon of a shot either off a one-timer or a wrist shot, a hard, accurate snipe that has very few equal in the league. 

"If you have someone like Patty on that side, they have to cover him because he's really dangerous," Voracek said. "I would say there are three other guys like him -- it's (Boston's David) Pastrnak, (Tampa Bay's Steven) Stamkos and (Washington's Alexander) Ovechkin, and Laine." 

But the straw that serves the drink this year might be Voracek, who was acquired this offseason seemingly for this very role. He's already contributed on all three man-advantage goals in the short preseason, twice using quick passes from Laine to set up Jenner at the front for goals and then scoring one of his own in Buffalo when the Sabres, worried about all of the other options on the ice, gave him the time and space to pick his spot. 

Where he might be most useful, though, is his ability to distribute, especially when the defense collapses on Laine and he fires the puck across the zone to Voracek in the right circle. 

"It obviously helps to have Jake over there," Laine said. "He's been one of the best power-play/5-on-5 passers over a decade, so it definitely helps. He definitely knows what he's doing, and I feel like we have the right pieces right now and just try to work on it. He has so many options over there, he can just find a lot of different plays and everybody needs to be on the same page and we'll be good." 

So as Larsen said, it's too early to get too excited. But after Columbus finished 27th in the NHL on the power play a year ago -- not to mention 27th in 2019-20, 28th in 2018-19 and 25th in 2017-18 -- any improvement would certainly be welcomed by players and fans alike.  

"Three goals in two games isn't too bad," Voracek said. "But usually it's about how you move the puck around, how you are filling the spots. I think we were really good on zone entries on the power play, which is really important because if you can get in, you're going to score. So we talked about it a lot, we worked on it a lot.  

"Every guy has a different spot they need to be, and if we fill them out exactly at the right time and the right moment, we can be really dangerous." 

Don't miss out! Be there for the season opener Oct. 14 against Arizona!

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