The Washington Capitals’ special teams units have been at or near the top of the league rankings all year. While the number of power-play chances certainly goes down once the playoffs begin, the relative rarity of goals and chances makes converting those opportunities all the more important. Look none other than to the last President’s Trophy run. In that playoffs first round match-up the Montreal Canadiens scored six PP goals to the Capitals one, the Canadiens prevailed. Last year in the first round, the Islanders did not score a PP goal while the Caps scored two. Then in the very next round the New York Rangers tallied three PP goals to the Capitals one.
Last week Arik Parnass took a look at who should be at the top of the Capitals 1-3-1 on the PP. Through a variety of both micro (I like these) and macro statistics from open sources as well as his Special Teams Project, he painted a picture that pointed to John Carlson as the better option when compared to Matt Niskanen for the Caps. Here’s some of the reasons why:
Let’s take a look at what leads to Carlson’s success.
On zone entries, Carlson prefers a more deliberate approach almost methodically bringing the puck up the ice to wait to pass it off. Niskanen usually skates a bit faster when bringing the puck up and often passes to the first guy to swing. Neither is necessarily better than the other, but Niskanen’s approach can lead to more failures, while Carlson’s can waste a bit more time and players can be moving with less speed on entry. I tend to like Carlson’s approach a bit more as it often waits for the defenders to make the first move. Neither player is exclusive in his approach, though, lending credence to the possibility that any perceived difference is coaching and tactically based as well.
Pay attention to when the pass is made.
Nisky’s pass is made from just below the hashmarks to the first swingman (Kuznetsov or Backstrom usually), and Carlson’s is made at the top of the circles and to the main entry man (Johansson or Chimera usually).
In the zone, Niskanen prefers to stay in the middle of the ice, while Carlson is more willing to move toward the boards. This means that Carlson is in better position for wrap keep-ins, but in a poorer position to shoot or to make the pass to Ovechkin. Niskanen is also a bit more mobile than Carlson at the point, so he can back skate across the blue line at a faster clip. This is important in moving the defenders, but not something that Niskanen relies on as much as someone like Mike Green has in the past. The preference here depends entirely on the defending team tactics, but Niskanen’s edge in mobility must be noted.
Watch Niskanen stay in the center of the ice compared to Carlson who starts much more toward the boards.
Arik’s shot chart is evidence of the difference in positioning of the two as well. Niskanen’s center point of the plot is … center point, while Carslon’s is to the right of center.
Credit: Arik Parnass
With the puck on their sticks at the point, Carlson prefers the slapshot while Niskanen uses more wrist shots than Carlson. When passing to Ovechkin, Carlson will employ the use of a no look pass, while Niskanen prefers to find his target. These subtle little differences can mean a lot. Carlson’s shot is better than Niskanen’s, there is little doubt of that. But Niskanen’s use of the wrist shot, lately especially, has been effective at eluding shot blockers and goaltenders. The no-look pass of Carlson has the ability to freeze the goaltender a bit, slowing his slide over to the Ovechkin spot for a split second. Sometimes that is just enough. If Niskanen can keep getting quality wrist shots through to the net, he may get the edge here, but Carlson’s no look pass can be effective and his shot is generally better.
While we saw a no look from Carlson above, here is another for good measure.
Both Niskanen and Carlson have proven that they can run an effective 1-3-1 power play. Carlson has the shot advantage while Niskanen exhibits more mobility. Both can pass effectively to Ovechkin, though Carlson’s no look has the ability to fool the defense, but can make it more inaccurate. The tactics of the defending team may dictate who is more effective at any given time. A main strategy in defending the 1-3-1 has become taking away the pass from the half-wall to the point. This moves the point man closer to the wall making the pass across to Ovechkin cover more ground. The more mobile option of Niskanen may be able to close that gap more effectively. If the tactic of the defending team is to take away Ovechkin, the better shot of Carlson may be more effective in getting quality chances and hopefully moving the defenders. Carlson…Niskanen, either way, they have a guy that can produce back there.
There is one wrinkle I would like them to add to the standard PP.
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
All original content on russianmachineneverbreaks.com is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)– unless otherwise stated or superseded by another license. You are free to share, copy, and remix this content so long as it is attributed, done for noncommercial purposes, and done so under a license similar to this one.