During the 2016-17 season, the Columbus Blue Jackets powerplay unit was more than a little successful. They saw 211 opportunities with 42 powerplay goals, good for a 19.91% conversion rate; .81% better than the league average. Now, just seven games into the season, the Blue Jackets luck on the powerplay seems to be running out. So far, they have seen 22 powerplay opportunities and have only scored two goals, a conversation rate of 9.09%. Right now, league average is 19.33%.
Columbus Blue Jackets Powerplay Woes
Last year, they saw the fewest power play opportunities, but still ended up 12th best in the league in power play percentage.
There a few reasons why Columbus might be struggling on the man-advantage.
The Lack of Gagner
During the 2016 off-season, the Blue Jackets signed Sam Gagner to a one-year contract for $650,000. After struggling with the Philadelphia Flyers, Columbus decided to give Gagner a “prove-it” contract for him to prove that he could stay in the league. Originally drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in 2007 with the 6th overall pick, Gagner bounced from the Oilers to the Arizona Coyotes to the Flyers and finally to Columbus.
Many people were not sure what to expect with the Gagner signing, he only had eight goals and eight assists in 53 games for the Flyers, he even played nine games for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms – the Flyers AHL team.
But what Gagner showed is that he could excel on the powerplay. After the season ended, Gagner had eight powerplay goals and 10 powerplay assists. While on the powerplay Gagner had a Relative Corsi-For percentage (Rel.CF%) of 3.7% and a GF/60 of 9.4.
— 1st Ohio Battery (@1stOhioBattery) March 11, 2017
It certainly hurts to lose a player who helped boost the powerplay, especially one with such a low cap hit.
Zach Werenski’s rookie season took Columbus and the hockey world by storm. At just 19 years old he helped quarterback one of the most successful powerplays in the league. His Rel.CF% was a 2.2%, impressive for a rookie defenseman, and a GF/60 of 9.6. He also had an xGF (expected goals for) of 30.24.
Of course with the season being only eight games old all the numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. Right now Werenski has played 24 minutes of powerplay time in through eight games. Right now his Rel.CF% is .78% and his xGF is just a 1.55.
— 1st Ohio Battery (@1stOhioBattery) October 7, 2017
Unlike Werenski, who has one goal on the powerplay — no assists — Seth Jones does not have any points on the man-advantage. Jones’s Rel.CF% is a -3.05 and xGF is a 1.56. Jones does have less powerplay time than Werenski, as he quarterbacks the second unit.
Changes and Lack of Chances for the Blue Jackets
There is a major change in the powerplay, and on the first line, these days. Over the off-season general manager, Jarmo Kekalainen added firepower in Artemi Panarin, a player who is expected to score goals in key moments. As of right now, Panarin only has one point on the powerplay, an assist. The line of Cam Atkinson – Alexander Wennberg – Panarin has been doing well at even strength, so it might be only a matter of time until they have a connection on the powerplay.
Out of 31 teams, the Blue Jackets rank 30th in terms of powerplay opportunities with 19, only the Minnesota Wild have fewer with 15. Columbus is not getting many chances to actually get on the powerplay and try to do something, even though they did have three opportunities against the Tampa Bay Lightning on the 19th.
The team is also still a little pass-happy when it comes to the powerplay, instead of trying to put something on net, they’d rather pass to try to find the perfect goal. Right now they have a GF/60 of 1.74 and an xGF of 2.64.
Room for Improvement
Torts also made an interesting comment on the PP, saying Werenski is comfortable passing to Wennberg. (1/2) #CBJ
— Mark Scheig (@markscheig) October 21, 2017
Head coach John Tortorella said that Werenski was comfortable passing to Wennberg on the powerplay and that he also had Panarin to pass to. Saturday night against the Los Angeles Kings, Werenski made a pass to Panarin who then made a slick pass to Nick Foligno for their first powerplay goal in 18 attempts.
Panarin has been one of the best playmakers on the Blue Jackets so far, despite the fact that he was traded to score goals, he has a team-leading eight assists. On the powerplay, he has a Rel.CF% of 8.12% and an xGF of 1.65.
The powerplay will not stay at the 9.09% conversion, the team is still learning how to mix in the news players and soon things will click. The good news is that the penalty kill is above league average. Now, they just a few lucky bounces to get the powerplay going.