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Home ice advantage pays off

by Kristyn Repke / Columbus Blue Jackets

With nine of 12 games played at home in this January stretch, the Columbus Blue Jackets are making the most of their home ice advantages. 

This season, home ice has played an integral role in the success of several teams. The NHL-leading Anaheim Ducks are 21-1-2 at Honda Center this season after beginning with a 20-0-2 run. The other top two teams in the leauge, the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins, also have impressive home records this season with 18-3-7 and 21-4-0 records, respectively.

The Blue Jackets have fared well at Nationwide Arena this season, too. They're 14-9-2 at home through 25 home games, and still have 16 home games remaining this season. Five of the Jackets' franchise record-setting eight straight wins have come on home ice. Head coach Todd Richards admits that it is not a coincidence.

"We're feeding off the crowd and the energy," Richards said to "That’s probably been the biggest factor—our comfort level, our confidence level, and the energy of the crowd at Nationwide Arena.”

Blue Jackets center Mark Letestu agreed with Richards.

“It’s so much easier to generate momentum at home when you have your fans cheering your every move," Letestu said. "It’s nice to have that positive reenforcement because you don’t get that on the road. Having a fanbase behind you is the main reason that we have more success at home versus on the road.”

What other advantages do teams receive on home ice? One of the more notable and oft-referenced is the last line change.

According to official NHL rules, visiting teams must immediately place a line-up on the ice ready for play, without any player substitutions. The home team, however, can make any substitution to create better match-ups, unless an icing play was called against the home team (then icing rules apply--the line responsible for icing must stay on the ice for the next draw while the opposing team can substitute players).

Typically, coaches would say that this is a big advantage, because they can use this to get favorable match-ups based on scouting reports or which players they believe are best used in certain situations. Richards, though, said that because the Blue Jackets are receiving production from all four lines, he is not as concerned about individual match-ups.

“I’m not worrying as much about that because of how our lines are going," said Richards. "We're rolling four lines and giving guys ice time and are able to spread it around. We’re getting all four lines going, all six defensemen going. We have that depth going, and that's big for us.”

Another advantage factor on home ice is being able to take position second in the faceoff circle, something Letestu agrees does have a big impact on puck possession.

“Being the home team in faceoffs, being able to go down second is a big advantage," said Letestu. "Most guys have a better advantage and better numbers at home, and there's a reason for that. Players get to 'cheat' better and see what the other guy is doing before they go down for a draw.”

For the Blue Jackets, the numbers do hold true. The team's faceoff percentage at home is about four percent better than it is on the road - quite a significant difference. The only player who is the exception to that is Brandon Dubinsky, who has a 56.0 face-off win percentage on the road versus a 55.2 win percentage on home ice.

One Blue Jackets player who has seen a lot of success at Nationwide Arena is Sergei Bobrovsky. He is 22-8-5 in 35 career appearances at Nationwide Arena. He's posted a 10-5-0 record in 15 home starts this season, with a goals-against average of 2.15 and a .923 save percentage in that span.

Looking ahead to the next few games, the Blue Jackets will play four of their next five games at home before heading off on their one California road trip this season, including a back-to-back series at the Kings and Ducks. Richards stressed the importance of picking up points at home before the team plays in some of what he calls the toughest venues in the NHL.

“It’s important because if you look where our last three games are before the break, their home records are very good," said Richards. "I'm not saying those games are impossible to win, but we have to take advantage of our home games before we go out there.”

Here's a look at some of the Blue Jackets' more notable home vs. road numbers from this season:

2013-14 stat category home road
games played 25 25
goals for 78 66
goals against 63 76
power play goals for 19 13
power play goals allowed 14 21
power play percentage 21.8% 16.0%
penalty kill percentage 84.8% 75.6%
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