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Powered up: Blue Jackets' power play pushing team to playoff wins

Columbus leads NHL in man-advantage success in postseason

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider /

The Blue Jackets say not much has changed on the team's power play from the regular season to the playoffs. 

But there's no arguing one thing is different for the man-up unit through seven games against Tampa Bay and Boston. 

The results. 

During the regular season, the Blue Jackets finished 28th in the NHL in power-play percentage at 15.4 percent. Even down the stretch, it's not like Columbus caught fire, with the team going 4 for 21 (19.0 percent) in the last 10 games of the regular season; better, but even that mark wouldn't have been in the top half of NHL teams through the campaign. 

But since the playoffs began, the Jackets have been on fire. Columbus has a power-play goal in six of the seven games thus far and has won every game in which it has scored with the man advantage. In all, the team is 8 for 21 (38.1 percent) in the playoffs on the power play, and that doesn't include a game-winner in the series clincher vs. Tampa Bay that was scored on a delayed penalty. 

"Sometimes it just gets streaky," head coach John Tortorella said. "We haven't changed a lot as far as how we're playing, we're just playing." 

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So while the Jackets say there hasn't been a massive overhaul to the team's strategy or personnel on the power play -- something that is true -- there have been some key traits to the success the team has had. 

Here's a look at a few. 

Getting set: The keys to a good power play aren't really that hard. First, a team has to get the puck in the zone, whether it's by winning the offensive zone faceoff that generally comes after a penalty or by getting the puck across the blue line and then establishing possession.  

Then the talent takes over, with the team trying to move the puck in a way that creates good looks on net, whether that's a shot through a screen from the point, an open shot from the wings or a rebound in front. 

When it comes to establishing possession in the zone, the Blue Jackets have scored power-play goals this postseason both through faceoffs and zone entries. Early on in the Tampa series, Matt Duchene was strong on draws on the power play, allowing the team to get set up and then go from there (think Zach Werenski's power-play marker early in Game 2, when Duchene won a draw back to the defenseman, who fired through traffic and into the top corner past Andrei Vasilevskiy). 

Video: CBJ@TBL, Gm2: Werenski scores off draw on power play

But there have also been a handful of power plays where the Jackets have had to go back into their own end and get the puck in, then established possession and scored a goal. There, the drop pass employed by many teams has been effective, as it allows the team to enter the zone with speed and options.

A key from there is in the retrieval, a fancy way of saying whether a team is able to regain possession of a free puck, whether it's after a shot on goal, a defensive breakup or a pass that goes awry. 

In the last two games against Boston, the retrievals have been excellent, especially in Game 3 when the team was able to keep the puck in the Boston zone for pretty much the whole power play before Duchene tapped in a rebound against a gassed Bruins PK unit that had just spent two minutes chasing the Jackets around. 

"I thought last night on our power-play goal we had some really good retrievals," Tortorella said Wednesday. "We kept the puck. That helps to get second or third chances at it." 

Tortorella credited Duchene in particular for his skills in preventing Boston players from getting to loose pucks to clear the zone, but special notice also has to go to Seth Jones for his skills at keeping the puck in at the blue line.  

On the game-winning, overtime power-play goal in Game 2, Jones was everywhere, using his long stride and longer reach to twice keep the puck in at the blue line before Duchene's winner. The two keep-ins were on opposite sides of the ice at the wall, showing just how much space Jones can cover. 

Video: BOS@CBJ, Gm3: Duchene doubles lead with PPG

Then against the Bruins in Game 3, he made a sliding stop of a puck trying to get out of the zone along the wall, causing observers to compare him to a baseball shortstop. 

"It was beautiful," captain Nick Foligno said with a laugh after the game. "I hear the Clippers are looking at him." 

Jones, when reminded of the play Wednesday, couldn't help but also chuckle. 

"I was dead tired at that point," he said. "You saw I took a second after I kept it in to take a deep breath there." 

Net-front presence: The man who is positioned in front of the goaltender on a power play has a pivotal job. First, he's a goal-scoring threat on rebounds from the front of the cage, plus he can be critical when it comes to providing a screen and taking away the goaltender's eyes, allowing any shot a much better chance at going in. 

For Duchene and Pierre-Luc Dubois, they've both been effective in different ways in front of the net. Dubois, the strapping 20-year-old who holds that job on the team's No. 2 power-play unit, was an excellent screener in front of Vasilevskiy on two power-play goals late in the Tampa Bay series -- Oliver Bjorkstrand's Game 3 winner as well as Alexandre Texier's tally in the opening minutes of Game 4. 

Video: TBL@CBJ, Gm3: Bjorkstrand wires home power-play goal

Duchene, meanwhile, has been key the other way on the top unit. Both of his goals in Game 2 and Game 3 past Boston's Tuukka Rask were the result of him being at the net front to pick up rebounds and put them past the Bruins goalie before he could react.  

"It's just getting in front of the goalie," Duchene said.  

Personnel tweaks: By and large, the Jackets haven't changed up the units too much, but two moves have had an outsized impact when it comes to the team's ability to score this postseason. 

Before the opening series vs. Tampa Bay, the team's braintrust -- which includes Tortorella as well as power-play coach Brad Larsen, not to mention consultant Martin St. Louis -- decided to put the rookie Texier on a wing of the No. 2 power-play unit.  

It was a lot to ask of a 19-year-old who spent most of his season playing in Finland, but Texier isn't daunted by anything, and he proved ready to handle that responsibility against the Lightning. His calm nature on the left wing allowed him to hold on to pucks and let traffic clear, something Tortorella attributed to the success of the No. 2 unit against the Lightning. Texier also scored that goal early in Game 4 by using a wicked shot to beat Vasilevskiy. 

Video: TBL@CBJ, Gm4: Texier snipes early power-play goal

Against Boston, the move included replacing Werenski as the blue line defenseman on the No. 1 power play with Jones for Game 2. Tortorella has declined to go into any strategic reasoning for decision -- and it could come down to the simple fact Werenski suffered a bruised hand in Game 1 -- but it does give the top power play a different look considering Jones isn't afraid to let a bomb go whereas Werenski is more of a shoot-through-traffic kind of blueliner. 

"They made an adjustment from Game 1," Boston coach Bruce Cassidy said. "They put Jones up top as opposed to Werenski, so now you have a different one-timer threat. We didn't adjust to that on the first (power-play goal by Artemi Panarin in Game 2)." 

And from there, Jones has proved crucial with both his ability to distribute the puck and keep it in the zone. 

"My job on the power play is to control the blue line keep pucks in and get the puck to Cam (Atkinson) and Bread and just make plays up there with those guys." 

Shots on net: Perhaps no more important piece of the pie, though, is this one -- moving the puck in a quick enough fashion that creates shooting lanes to get the puck on net. 

There's no doubt the puck movement has been crisper in the playoffs than in the postseason; whether that's through video study pointing out the best routes for the right combination of passes or simply just players performing up to their potential is up in the air, but the movement has been at a different level in the postseason. 

That has allowed clean looks at the net, and the Blue Jackets have taken advantage. Many of the team's power-play goals -- think Bjorkstrand in Game 3 vs. Tampa Bay, Texier in Game 4 of that series, or Panarin's one-time blast against Boston in Game 2 -- have come from skilled players ripping shots on goal. Other goals -- Duchene's last two, for example -- have come from someone being in the right spot to put in a rebound when those skilled players take those shots. 

Video: CBJ@BOS, Gm2: Duchene wins it in 2OT on power play

Add it all up and the power play has been a key part of the Blue Jackets' postseason success, allowing it to steal goals vs. Tampa Bay and providing a spark in a grind-it-out, tough-as-nails series vs. Boston. 

"When the puck goes in the net it gives you confidence," Tortorella said. "It frees you up as far as making plays. We haven't done anything different than we've tried earlier in the season. We've got the puck to the net, we've got some rebounds, and hopefully we're going to stay with it." 

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