On Saturday night I made an offhand comment while watching the Caps power play sputter yet again.
The PP used to be so good that not even Adam Oates could break it.
— RMNB (@russianmachine) December 4, 2016
This was a joke and a jab at my favorite easy target, but there was intention behind it. The Caps PP has been good for a long time. If it stops being so, it won’t be because the 1-3-1 formula stops working or because league-wide defenses adjust to it — it will be because Alex Ovechkin stops being Alex Ovechkin, for he is the Caps power play.
First, we must all agree that Washington’s power play has been really good for a long time.
|Season||Caps PP% rank|
There was a blip from 2010-2012, and we’ll talk about that, and this year’s model isn’t very good at all, but the Caps had been a power play institution for going on a decade.
One reader, upon seeing my snide tweet above, put it this way:
dam Oates built it the PP! U need to get stop blaming him! New GM, New Coach 12 million + in D still no cup. Get over it!
Personally, I’m surprised that Adam Oates still enjoys credit for having “fixed” or “built” or “revolutionized” Washington’s power play during his short time as head coach. While the power play certainly improved when Oates took over, the Caps PP was good before and they were good after. And the notion that Oates’ 1-3-1 or “diamond” formation made the Caps PP great again is worth interrogating.
Bruce Boudreau’s power play was just as good as Oates’ whether measured in goal rate or PP conversation rate. When Trotz took over, and thanks to assistant coaches Todd Reirden and Blaine Forsythe, it had remained good until just recently.
But there were times when the power play faltered. At the end of Bruce Boudreau’s tenure and for the duration of Dale Hunter’s administration, the Caps PP was just mediocre.
Conventional wisdom tells us that Oates rejuvenated the man advantage by deploying a 1-3-1 formulation. You see it all across the league now. But Oates did not bring the 1-3-1 to Washington. Boudreau had used a version of it years earlier.
(Thanks to JP for first sharing that video years ago.)
The distinction to Oates’ flavor of the 1-3-1 was how it spotlighted Alex Ovechkin at the right circle. This is the origin of the Ovi Shot from the Ovi Spot (copyright: me 2013), and this is the reason why so many other teams have duplicated the tactic without duplicating its success.
This also shines a light on why and how the Caps power play of the previous two seasons, 2010-11 and 2011-12, did not do well: they didn’t use Alex Ovechkin.
Oates’ success was not just a matter of emphasizing Ovechkin tactically, it was also deployment. He reversed a trend wherein Ovechkin’s power play ice time dropped during Boudreau’s final season and plummeted under Hunter.
The friction between Dale Hunter and Alex Ovechkin — apparent to everyone who watched — hamstrung the team’s power play in 2011-12.
Ice time percentage, or TOI%, is the share of time the player was on the ice out of the total available time. Ovechkin went from more than 83 percent (i.e. a supersize shift that spanned the first and much of the second unit) to getting less than 70 percent under Hunter.
When Oates arrived and made Ovechkin his pet project, the TOI% quickly rebounded. The 2013-14 Caps, who were bad at everything but the power play, relied on Ovechkin even more, maxing out at 86.4 percent TOI%.
The power play since then has been an engine for Alex Ovechkin goals. Here’s that same table from before, but this time with Ovi’s goal rate at right.
|Season||Caps PP% rank||Ovi PP goals/60|
Those numbers are obscene, and they underline the inescapable point: Washington’s power play is Alex Ovechkin.
Since Boudreau was fired, they’ve depended on Ovi for around 40 percent of their production. (Had Hunter appreciated this, he would have used Ovi more.)
The 1-3-1 is a good setup. It’s quick and dynamic. But that’s not why it has been so successful in Washington. The reason why the 1-3-1 has worked is Alex Ovechkin.
Oates’ genius was not the tactics of the 1-3-1; it was the deliberate undoing of his predecessor’s colossal mistake: not using the sport’s best shooter in prime shooting time.
And now the Caps are seeing a new decline in the power play’s effectiveness, and this time the solution isn’t so simple. If the cause of the downturn is the aging curve finally dampening Ovechkin’s explosiveness, that would be worrying. If that’s the case, double-shifting won’t help.
Barry Trotz seems to be leaning in the other direction.
Asked Trotz what "harshly" addressing something meant. Said if Ovechkin didn't limit the penalties, ice time (like on the PP) would be next.
— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) December 6, 2016
Cutting Alex Ovechkin’s ice time was Dale Hunter’s fatal flaw (that and being a punishingly boring hockey coach). I doubt Trotz will follow his example.
But there are diminishing returns for a man advantage that has a 31-year-old as its centerpiece. The lesson of this season may be that the Capitals cannot rely on the Ovi Shot from the Ovi Spot forever.
That is inevitable, but for now the Caps must stay the course. During the power play, they are 4th in attempts, 3rd in unblocked attempts, 8th in shots on goal, and 29th in goals.
Soon they will score, and it will be Alex Ovechkin’s glove getting kissed when they do. Which is right and good, because he is the true genius behind Washington’s power play — past, present, and future.
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.