Photo: Rob Carr
The Washington Capitals’ power play has operated in the same way for years under a myriad of coaches. It features a 1-3-1 setup. The main weapon is Alex Ovechkin, who scored 19 of his 50 goals on the man-advantage in the regular season. Since 2011, it’s been one of the league’s top five units. Everyone knows what’s coming; they just can’t stop it.
In their first round series against the Philadelphia Flyers, the Capitals power play was key as the team jumped out to an early 3-0 lead, converting on eight of 17 man-advantage opportunities, despite the Capitals often getting outplayed at even strength.
“Our power play is successful because everybody is on the same page, everybody knows what they have to do,” Ovechkin said after Saturday’s morning skate. “If they take me away, Carly’s open or Osh or Willy or Kuzy or Backy. It’s hard to stop. If I have a chance to shoot the puck I will, but I’ll take a guy with me to go to the goal line or something.”
But as Washington looked to close out the Flyers, the power play nosedived, going zero for 10 in the last half of the series. That carried over to the opening game of the Pittsburgh series as Washington failed to score on any of their four power plays despite a flurry of scoring chances on their first man-advantage of the game stopped by goalie Matt Murray.
“I just think we didn’t do a good enough job recovering pucks and breaking into the zone,” John Carlson, the Caps’ main PP quarterback, said on Friday. “The first power play, we came up with those pucks. The other ones we didn’t do that great of job of that. I don’t think they changed much. It’s just a matter of putting that little extra effort, little extra detail, better breakout, and stuff like that. At the end of the day, the puck’s going to be loose at some point and if we win that puck to get more zone time, to extend plays out, we know we can get our chances, but it’s got to come out of a foundation of work.”
But that’s not the whole story. The Penguins penalty kill was just as effective as Washington’s power play in the regular season. Both units placing fifth in their respective categories. Counting Thursday’s game, the Capitals are have converted on just two of the 20 power plays they’ve had against Pittsburgh this season.
“Usually if you win the speciality teams battle, you’re going to win the game, but it didn’t work for us,” Eric Fehr, who skated two minutes and 26 seconds shorthanded in Thursday’s loss, said. “We just got to continue to be strong on the PK and try to give our team a chance. We expect if we’re able to shut that power play down and we get a power play goal ourselves we’re going to be in a good spot.”
As Spenser pointed out the other day, the Penguins apply heavy pressure when on the PK. The Capitals may very well do a better job of gathering loose pucks in Game Two, as Carlson insists they must, but the Pens are creating those battles in the first place.
“I thought we had parts that were really good,” Fehr said. “There were definitely times when Ovechkin got that shot off from the side. You’re really playing with fire when you give them that many opportunities. I think Murray made some great saves on those plays, but we still want to limit their shots a little bit more.”
Murray, however, said he felt well protected, with the Capitals managing six shots on the PP in Game One, which is hardly a barrage. Only two came after Washington’s first power play.
“I thought we did a really good job,” Murray said. “Guys were willing to block shots, guys were willing to pressure when they needed to, to skate, and work hard. I really liked our penalty kill. I didn’t really have to make too many saves. That says a lot about how they’re playing.”
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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