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Power play has become difference maker for Blue Jackets

Columbus helped on winning road trip by successful power play

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider /

There was a time recently when a power play would have drawn more groans from the Blue Jackets faithful than cheers. 

"You just wanted to get through it," head coach John Tortorella recently admitted. 

Over the last few weeks, that has changed, and so has the mind-set among Blue Jackets players. The team has gone from worrying about the lack of momentum produced by going on the power play to embracing how the suddenly potent man-advantage has helped the bottom line. 

Video: CBJ@VGK: Atkinson goes top shelf for PPG

In Colorado on Tuesday, a power-play goal by Alexander Wennberg was the nail in the coffin as Columbus ended a five-game losing streak with a 6-3 win against the Avalanche. Thursday, Josh Anderson's power play goal was the winner as Columbus took a 4-2 victory at Arizona. 

And, perhaps most importantly, Cam Atkinson's snipe with 2:31 to go on Saturday gave Columbus a 4-3 victory at Vegas, one of the toughest places to play in the league. 

Those power-play goals against the Coyotes and Golden Knights came against teams ranked first and fifth in the NHL, respectively, on the PK going into those games.  

Atkinson's tally was the Jackets' 10th in the last 12 games, and the team has clicked at a 32.3-percent rate (10-31) in that span. 

On a more short-term level, the hiring of Martin St. Louis as a special teams consultant receiving a lot of publicity in January, and it's fair to say the Hockey Hall of Famer is making a difference. Since St. Louis spent three days working with the Blue Jackets coming out of the winter break, Columbus' power play is clicking at a 5-for-12 rate (41.7 percent) in six games. 

"I think bringing in a guy like Martin St. Louis and having him and (assistant coach Brad Larsen) kind of collaborating together, we have a new language so to speak," Atkinson said after the win vs. Vegas. "We feel good about ourselves. We're playing with confidence. They score a shorthanded goal, which is unacceptable, but we're playing with confidence and it's showing.  

"We're making plays and not forcing it. I think we've been pretty good the last five or six games, other than that shorty tonight." 

Schematically, not a ton has changed, even from when Columbus went 11 straight games without a power-play goal in late December and early January. The Blue Jackets have continued to employ a 1-3-1 scheme, which the team has used most of the season. 

But some things have developed. The team has moved the puck more quickly and with purpose, it's used the middle man in the 1-3-1 setup more often, and a concerted effort has been made to get a screen in front and then feed the wingers on each side of the 1-3-1 with momentum and a chance to let a shot go with traffic in front. 

The units have also solidified some, with Nick Foligno working at the front of the net on the top unit with Artemi Panarin, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Atkinson across the middle and Zach Werenski on top. The No. 2 unit has made use of Josh Anderson at the front of the net, Seth Jones at the top of the zone, and Anthony Duclair, Oliver Bjorkstrand and Alexander Wennberg across the middle. 

"It certainly is on the right track as far as the mind-set of the power-play guys going out there," Tortorella said. "I'm not in their head, but I can just sense the way they are going about it that they feel much better that they're going to generate something. I think they're going in the right direction, and hopefully it will continue." 

The Blue Jackets have a long way to go to be considered one of the best in the NHL with the man advantage, but things certainly feel different now than they did a month ago. Columbus bottomed out at last in the NHL in power-play percentage with its 11-game scoreless drought, but now the team is up to 22nd in the NHL at 16.7 percent.  

And most importantly, no longer do the Blue Jackets fell apprehension when the power play comes along. Instead, the special teams unit can be the difference maker that earns the Blue Jackets key wins down the stretch. 

"I know I feel it. More importantly, I think they feel it," Tortorella said. "I think they're trying to make more plays. I'll answer it in a very general term - I do think they feel very confident about how they're going about their business right now." 

"We're moving the puck a lot more and decisions are easier to make," Dubois added. "I think we have more structure to it now, but it's all about the feel and it's all about the confidence." 

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