Washington Capitals: Power Play Must Improve To Win Stanley Cup

Through 77 regular season games, the Washington Capitals’ power play is not playoff ready. In fact, it is in the playoffs where the power play disappeared last season.

After flying through the regular season ranked No. 1 in every major offensive category last year, the Capitals suffered a collapse never before seen by a No. 1 seed in the first round of the playoffs.

You know the story, and you know how it ended. Let us not over-complicate the Caps’ drop in offense this season. It started last year against Montreal in the playoffs.

Yes, the fact that Washington has transitioned into a more defensive team has contributed to the decrease in offense this year. But the only other reason the Caps are not scoring three or four goals per game is their below-average power play.

With 79 power play goals last season, the Caps ranked first with the extra man. They scored 11 more goals with four fewer opportunities than the Flyers, who ranked second. Washington converted at an unbelievable 25.2 percent, which was almost five percent more than the Flyers.

However, in the postseason, the Caps’ power play collapsed quicker than Charlie Sheen’s sobriety after a night out on the town. Washington scored just one time in 33 extra-man advantages. And after scoring just three goals in the final three games, they were eliminated in seven games. 

If you are looking for a reason the seventh-seeded Philadelphia Flyers were able to move onto the Stanley Cup Finals last season, look no further than the power play. The Flyers finished the postseason ranked No. 1 with 23 goals. They converted 21.9 percent of their extra-man advantages and while that was not No. 1 their power was a major reason for their second season success.

The lack of power play production has continued this season for Washington.  Although it is not as bad as last year’s playoffs, the Caps’ power play is not close to being above average. With five games remaining this season, the Caps have scored just 41 extra-man markers.

The drop-off is significant, as the Caps are on pace to score 35 less goals with the extra man. That is a 44 percent drop and coupled with the 30 percent drop in overall production (on pace for 95 less goals), it is almost hard to believe the Caps will more than likely finish as the second seed in the East and win another division title.

The Caps are currently on a four game power-play goal drought. During the course of this season, Washington has twice gone six games and twice gone five games without scoring with the extra man.

From Nov. 28 through March 9, the Capitals set a franchise record by playing in 43 games without scoring multiple power-play goals.

Like you, I am tired of seeing the numbers and want to know how the Caps can fix this mess. Only the Detroit Red Wings have won a Stanley Cup in the last 10 years without converting at least 20 percent of their power plays during the postseason.

The acquisition of Dennis Wideman was a step in the right direction. Wideman is a power-play specialist who has scored nine of his 10 goals with the extra man.

From March 9 through March 22, a span of seven games, the Caps were 6-for-25 (a little more than 25 percent) with the extra man. Wideman scored one, assisted on one and was on the ice for two more.  

Mike Green’s absence has not helped, but the problem existed while Green was healthy and quarterbacking the power play unit.

With Green and Wideman each operating a line or perhaps both of them standing at the blue line together, the Caps could free up the area between the circles, forcing the opposition to move out and respect the point more. This would create a little more space in the middle to high slot. And we all know who likes to fire from that spot like he’s trying to win the biggest stuffed animal at a carnival game.

As much as Alex Ovechkin has helped the power play in the past, he may be actually hurting it this season. But it may not be Ovechkin’s fault. True, you want your best player to take the shot as much as possible, but not when teams are keying on him, especially on the power play.

Ovie’s line-mates were guilty all season of trying to force-feed him the puck in the high-slot area with the extra man. Opposing teams had the area covered, and the Caps seemed to be without a plan B.

Ovechkin’s averaged 51 goals per year since coming into the league. His power-play goals output has declined steadily over that time though. He has just six extra-man markers this season, compared to 13 last year and 19 the year before.

The opposition knows where the puck is headed on the power play, and the Caps have just not replaced his lack of opportunities. They have not even come close.

Washington tried to move Ovechkin to the point for a time, but that was not the answer. Caps head coach Bruce Boudreau then moved the Great Eight in front of the net and after some success, decided against it for health reasons.

With the extra man, the Caps always seem to be looking for the perfect pass instead of unloading the puck on net. The logic with firing the puck at the net as much as you can is simple. Wait for the inevitable rebound, which will create more scoring chances with the extra man.

The Caps simply try to get too “pretty,” and it has not served them well. One solution I suggest is to make sure rookie Marcus Johansson sees more time on the power play. Johansson is fast and forces Ovechkin to play his game, while Backstrom looks only for Ovechkin.

Johansson is crafty and comparable to a young NBA point guard making the flashy passes. With a little more open ice, that pass has a better chance of finding its intended recipient.

Nicklas Backstrom missed four of seven games with a broken finger during the recent stretch that saw Washington’s power play convert at 24 percent.

I am not implying that Johansson should take over for Backstrom by any stretch, but he does bring a little more to the power-play unit.

The Caps have proved beyond any doubt this season that they have a defense capable of winning the Stanley Cup. They have also proven they cannot score big power-play goals.

What a shame it would be to know that the only reason the Caps failed to win a Cup this season was because they couldn’t raise the power play to just average; Washington is 21st in the NHL converting at just 16.3 percent.

If Washington could convert at the league average of 18.8, the Caps could become the second team in the last 10 years to win a Stanley Cup without hitting the dubious 20 percent mark in the playoffs.

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