The Jackets have put the power back in power play.
Granted it is early in the season, but the team currently ranks fourth in the NHL on the man advantage through the first three games, converting on a 32-percent clip in scoring on 8-of-25 power plays.
In fact, the eight power play goals scored in three games this October matches the amount of power play goals scored in all of October last season, as the team went 8-of-82 in 12 games during the first month of the 2005-06 campaign.
“I think we have a talented group of guys that are finding the open man,” assistant coach Gary Agnew said. “I have always maintained that you take what the other team gives you and you try and make plays off of that.”
Agnew is in his first year as an assistant with the Jackets and his main responsibility is working with the power play units. Last year Agnew was the head coach for the Jackets AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, and his guidance helped the Crunch set a team record of 112 power-play goals, besting the previous mark of 91.
“Agnew brings a lot of knowledge on the power play,” Mark Hartigan, who played most of the 2005-06 season in Syracuse, said. “He had a great record down in Syracuse and he brings that philosophy of putting the puck on the net. He keeps preaching that to us and it is starting to pay off.”
Columbus’ record is 71 power play goals, set in 2002-03, which is the same season the club had its highest rated power play of 12th, converting on a record-high 17.3 percent. In 2005-06, Columbus went 64-of-451 for 14.2 percent, which ranked 28th in the NHL.
As a team, the squad ranks fourth in the NHL through three games, while individually, Rick Nash leads the team with two goals and two assists, David Vyborny has a goal and three assists on the power play and Duvie Westcott leads the blue line with three power play points.
“There are a lot of guys getting pucks to the net and scoring goals,” Head coach Gerard Gallant said. “I just think they are confident. The power play is about out-working the penalty kill and I think they are doing a good job on that. I think the guys have battled hard, it’s a total team thing.”
The confidence on the power play will continue to surge as some of the key players return to the lineup. Nikolai Zherdev, who finished third on the team with 10 power play goals last season, returned to the lineup on Monday after reaching agreement on a contract late in camp and scored on the power play in his season debut vs. Phoenix.
Center Sergei Fedorov has still yet to play this season due to a shoulder injury, while defenseman Bryan Berard, who was tied with Nash for the team lead with 11 power play goals a year ago, has also yet to see action as he recovers from back surgery.
“Those are just other weapons that you have that you could play,” Agnew said. “If the team is taking away Z (Zherdev) and Veebs (Vyborny) and the guys down low, you can get it out to the point for a great shot back there.”
The club’s improvement on power play can be seen best in the standings, as the Jackets have started 2-0-1 on the young season, securing five of a possible six points.