When the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers face off on Thursday, we will see one of the league’s best power plays try to flummox a decent Philadelphia PK, and we’ll see a troubled Philadelphia power play try to surprise a very strong Washington shorthanded unit.
But asking how Washington is so effective and how Philadelphia will attempt to stymie them requires us to go a bit deeper– to the particulars of each team’s special teams systems and personnel– to better understand what we’re going to see this series.
|Washington Capitals||Philadelphia Flyers|
|Power Play Percentage||5th 21.9%||11th 18.9%|
|Penalty Kill Percentage||2nd 85.2%||20th 80.5%|
|Power Play Opportunities||19th 251 PPs||2nd 280 PPs|
|Penalty Kill Opportunities||16th 256 PKs||12th 262 PKs|
The Flyers penalty kill is quite poor, especially when compared to the Capitals second-ranked unit, and while the Caps PP has sputtered recently, their fifth ranked power play should have an advantage over the Flyers.
It is interesting to see that the Flyers better the Caps in both PP and PK opportunities. A higher rate of penalties in the series would benefit the Caps, so it will be key for the Flyers to stay out of the box. In their season series, the Caps capitalized on three of their 10 PP opportunities against the Flyers. The Flyers scored on three of 17.
The Capitals’ power-play personnel have been talked about ad nauseam. I even added to it recently with a post about the top man on the 1-3-1. Would it be prudent to stack the top unit with Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov? Is Kuznetsov a better option than Backstrom for the half-wall? What kind of wrinkles will the Caps add for the playoffs? A few may be coming.
Here are the general roles for the Caps power play personnel (the player on the Caps top unit will be listed first):
The strongest part of the personnel of the Caps power play is simply how each player fits his role perfectly, from handedness to skillset. They fit and it works.
On the penalty kill the Caps will exclusively use Niskanen, Karl Alzner, Carlson, and Brooks Orpik as long as none are in the box. Expect Mike Weber to be the first alternate if dressed, followed by Nate Schmidt, then Taylor Chorney.
As for the forwards, the Caps usually rotate six forwards in a standard two-minute penalty kill. Mike Richards, Tom Wilson, Jay Beagle, Daniel Winnik, Oshie and Williams have gotten the highest percentage of minutes recently, but Trotz will also use Backstrom and Chimera if need be. Their scheme asks the forwards to be the most aggressive and therefore mobile, so more forwards are needed to combat fatigue.
The Flyers power play has certainly been bandied about less frequently than the Caps this season, but their top unit is still dangerous especially with the addition of rookie Shayne Gostisbehere. Let’s do a similar role breakdown to the Caps (again, first unit will be listed first).
There are a couple areas of note for the Flyers top PP unit. First and foremost is that Wayne Simmonds is elite in front of the net, and teammate Brayden Schenn is no slouch either. Simmonds leads the NHL with 10 deflection or tip-in goals. Schenn is just behind at nine. Gostisbehere’s shot is lethal from the point. He has seven goals on slap shots, more than anyone on the Caps except Ovechkin, who also has seven. While their top unit is very good, their second unit is not.
On the PK, the Flyers lean heavily on Nick Schultz and Radko Gudas to man the backend. Next out the door for them are Brandon Manning and Mark Streit, though they have played much less.
As forwards go, their best and most frequent PKers are Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Chris Vandevelde. A combination of Matt Read, Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier are usually the second grouping with Ryan White and sometimes Scott Laughton filtering in. Their forward group of PKers is quality and deep, but their defensemen are the opposite.
The Caps’ 1-3-1 has been broken down more times than my first car. The key elements are multiple passing options for each player with triangle passing and the ability to generate one-timers from multiple threats. I will use this space to instead tackle their PK and the Flyers special teams.
We can take a look at both the Flyers PP setup and the Caps PK setup in these GIFs.
The Flyers’ PP setup looks a lot like the 1-3-1, but Simmonds is used net front instead of in the corner as his primary position. Brayden Schenn is positioned in the high slot as a passing outlet and for high screens and tips. Shots will come from anyone on the umbrella, and Simmonds and Schenn provide the traffic. All three of the umbrella players have a propensity to switch positions from time to time opening up different looks for each of them. The Capitals’ shot blocking and net-front denial of rebounds will need to be on point if they hope to slow the unit.
The Capitals employ an aggressive diamond no matter who they are playing, but it also happens to generally be the preferred method of combatting the umbrella power play. The top man (Richards and Laich above) will pressure the puck carrier at the point. The other three points on the diamond will protect the crease and slot. If the puck is moved down low, a side point on the diamond (Alzner and Chorney) will pressure outward especially if they smell a loose puck. The other two low points will usually retreat back in to protect the slot and crease at this time. The top man will cover the pass to the point.
The diamond setup will rocker back and forth depending on where the puck is. The Caps like the defenseman as the side point on the diamond on the puck side. So when the puck swings, the net front defensemen will swing out toward the new strong side, and the newly weak side defender will move to the net front. The forwards will mirror this. If anyone gets overextended, a teammate will read it and a switch can occur, usually seen at the top of the diamond when the puck swings from one side to the other quickly.
It is important to note that the crease defender (Niskanen in both) does not clear the crease, at least they haven’t in the regular season. They are positioned to defend a rebound. Their goal is to tie up Simmonds or clear the puck before he gets a chance to hop on the rebound. The goals of the other points of the diamond are to deny the actual shot from getting through to Simmonds. It is the job of the back side forward (Wilson and Oshie) to bother the high tip man, Schenn.
Here is a look at how the Flyers attempt to slow the Caps PP unit.
The Flyers will use a triangle (or wedge) plus one to defend the Caps power play. They do not commit a player to shadow Ovechkin, but the weak-side bottom point of the triangle acts in a similar manner. He stays between Ovechkin and the net to be in position for a shot block. The top of the triangle and he also work together to disrupt the man in the slot (Oshie and Williams usually) in the Caps formation as well, so that could be an avenue to open things up a bit.
The side points of the triangle work like the side points of the Caps diamond. They deny pucks to the net. The slight difference is that the weak-side point adds net front duty to guarding the Ovechkin one-timer. The top point of the triangle is used to guard the slot and add a layer of shot blocking to the center of the ice. The roamer pressures the puck carrier or gets in the primary passing lane. Most players in the formation can interchange with their partner as well.
This formation has slowed the Caps PP in the past, so adjustments are going to be a key. The Caps added an increased net-front presence this year from the corner man (Johansson and Chimera), likely because of this PK formation. This forces a decision from the points of the triangle. They must decide whether to position themselves to help clear possible rebounds or stay in the shooting lanes. If the Caps can get shots through from somewhere, there will be the opportunity for unmolested tips and rebounds, but that can be easier said than done with this PK setup. Center point shots are generally not open, but little pressure is put on the half-wall, so it may be possible for Backstrom or Kuznetsov to get shots or tight passes through. Another option could be a high tip play from Ovechkin to Oshie instead of the one-timer. The fiddling and tinkering is what is going to be the biggest key here. Can the Caps add a wrinkle that makes their 1-3-1 more effective? Can the Flyers stay true to their PK system or add a wrinkle of their own?
These last few GIFs will be on zone entries:
The Flyers like to take away the Caps entry man (Johansson or Chimera) with a forward, which also makes the puck carrier face three players on the far blue line once the puck reaches that point. This makes it tough for the Caps to use their base swing and pass entry. The ability to go the other way, chip and chase and carry the puck will need to be in full force to gain the zone under control for the Caps.
The Caps on the other hand like to use both forwards in the center of the ice when facing the Flyers. They act as a pincer to close out toward the board on anyone that tries to carry the puck. They don’t want an opponent to enter the zone with speed, so forcing a dump-in is usually the goal here. To combat this the Flyers use the drop pass a lot to get the players moving in one direction, only to reverse ground on them. Remember the drop pass because both teams may be employing it on PP zone entries this series.
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