Blue Jackets notebook: Richards makes changes to shake up power play
The Blue Jackets’ James Wisniewski, left, celebrates with Fedor Tyutin after scoring a first-period goal.
The slow, predictable nature of the Blue Jackets’ power play prompted eyebrow-raising changes by coach Todd Richards before a game against the Detroit Red Wings last night in Nationwide Arena.
Richards inserted utility player Mark Letestu on the point of one of the units, pairing him with Jack Johnson, and matched James Wisniewski with Fedor Tyutin. It broke up the regular, top-unit partnership of Wisniewski and Johnson, who had played on the points together since Johnson was acquired from Los Angeles last February.
“It’s something to try,” Richards said before the game. “I know we’ve scored a power-play goal in each of the last two games, but I still think our power play has to be better, crisper at moving the puck and creating more motion and attacking. At times, we get standing still and just go station to station.“Even if we have an opportunity to break a defense down, we’re moving slow enough that they’re able to recover.”
The switch paid off at 18:17 of the first period when Wisniewski ripped a feed from Tyutin through traffic to beat goalie Jimmy Howard to tie the score at 1.
The Blue Jackets had converted 5 of 38 power plays (13.2 percent) and ranked 23rd entering last night, with one more power-play goal than they had through eight games last season, when they failed to convert their first 20 opportunities and did not score a power-play goal until the fifth game.
Johnson snapped another four-game drought when he scored on the power play on Tuesday in a 3-2 loss at Minnesota.
“I don’t think the power play has been bad,” Johnson said. “We’re firing away. We’re getting great shots. But when you’re struggling to score, you can’t just keep doing the same thing over and over. I don’t blame anybody one bit for trying new things.”
Wisniewski left the game early in the second period when he lost his footing and slammed hard into the end boards.
Letestu, a center, spent time on the point last season. Four of his first five goals last season came on the power play.
Richards has had high praise for his fourth line, calling their play one of the few highlights of the 2-5-1 start.
“There’s a little bit of chemistry,” Letestu said of centering Derek MacKenzie and Jared Boll. “But I think it’s just the common goal we all have. I think we’ve all put our noses to the grindstone.”
Letestu, MacKenzie, Boll and occasional fourth-line winger Colton Gillies combined for two goals (Letestu), one assist (Boll) and a minus-4 rating through eight games. But Richards has liked their energy and grit. Boll entered last night’s game as the NHL leader in fighting majors (six) and the Western Conference leader in penalty minutes (40).
Red Wings defenseman Brendan Smith suffered an upper body injury in the first period and did not return. … Howard and MacKenzie played their 200th career games. … The Blue Jackets’ 3-1 lead at the end of the second period marked the first time they led after two periods this season. ... The Blue Jackets allowed the first goal for the seventh time in nine games.