By Chris Gordon
Over the past four seasons, the power play has been the lifeblood of the Washington Capitals.
Since 2013, nearly one-fourth of the team’s goals have been scored on the man-advantage. Impressive regular season numbers and Alex Ovechkin’s resurgence, led by his one-timers from the Ovi Spot, have all benefited greatly from Washington’s power play firepower. This year, however, one of league’s perennial top units is off to a slow start. Through two games and eight opportunities, the normally deadly Washington PP has come up with nothing.
“We’re leaving a lot on the ice,” John Carlson, who anchors the point on the first power play unit said after Saturday’s win over the Islanders. “For our skill level, our talent, we should have more goals than we do.”
The PP is little changed from last season. They still played their tried, true, and burned into your brain forever 1-3-1 format. The first unit remains untouched. The second unit underwent some tweaks, seemingly for the better, adding the skilled Andre Burakovsky in front and the booming shot and slick hands of Dmitry Orlov at the point.
“Our power play has got a lot of order to it,” head coach Barry Trotz said. “It’s very organized.”
The problem right now seems to be simple sloppiness. The team is entering the offensive zone well, but is struggling to set up its main weapon: Ovechkin.
Carlson is having a tremendous start to the season at even-strength. But on the power play, he has appeared somewhat aloof, along with his teammates. During Washington’s five 5-on-4s against the Islanders on Saturday, I counted at least four times when Carlson fired an errant pass at a wide open Ovechkin.
“There was a lot mistakes,” Carlson said of the power play. “There was some mishaps and stuff we certainly need to clean up.”
Had the puck been in Ovi’s wheelhouse, he could have unleash his deadly slapshot past New York goaltender Thomas Griess.
“We have the skill and we know each other well,” Ovechkin said when asked about the PP’s goose egg. “Sometimes it just didn’t work out. Tried to play, maybe, more casual than we used to play. We have to figure it out and play better, obviously.”
Luckily for the Caps, they have had scoring outbursts from two of their four lines, leading them to capture three of the four available points in their first two games. That’s a welcome sign.
Still, special teams has been a key part of the Capitals’ regular-season success over the span of multiple coaches. It’s kept Ovechkin a terrifying offensive threat. Last season, 19 of his 50 goals came on the man-advantage, outpacing every player in the league. For Ovi to continue to be an elite goal scorer and for the Capitals to rack up wins on par with last year, the power play must be effective. The good news is the Capitals know that.
“We need to score,” Carlson told me. “We need to generate a lot a mojo and chances our way to swing the momentum. That’s what we’re out there for.”
“I’m not worried about them,” Trotz added.
Headline photo: Patrick Smith
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