The Caps powerplay hasn’t been good this season. That’s not a particularly new development, as last season the team finished 12th in the league on the PP. While getting Evgeny Kuznetsov back certainly helps, the Caps’ issues while a man up have been less about the personnel and more about the tactics, particularly on zone entries.
In 2015, I tracked 10 games of Caps PP zone entries. At that time, the Caps had consistent success gaining the zone on controlled entries with one particular tactic. A defender (often John Carlson) would pass to the center (often Nick Backstrom) in stride at the defensive blue line. The center would then pass to the right-winger (often Marcus Johansson) streaking down the boards near the offensive blue line.
The Caps have gotten away from this type of puck movement through neutral on the PP, and it’s been a major drag on their zone-entry success. But against Dallas, they showed some signs of better puck movement through the neutral zone, and while it didn’t result in a goal, it did result in more zone time. They should keep it up.
The Caps’ most common uncontrolled entry is the same in 2019 as it was in 2015. It’s a hard-around dump by Alex Ovechkin, intended to go a player on the right half-wall. This play works if the Caps have already entered the zone with control because a forward can get to the puck on the right boards. But as a dump-in, this play didn’t work well in 2015, and it doesn’t work well in 2019. The Caps should delete it from their repertoire.
Below is an example of the successful controlled zone entry mentioned above that the Caps used in 2015. Defenseman → center in stride at the defensive blue line → right wing with speed down the boards.
But the Caps of 2019 don’t use the sort of entry above nearly as much as they used to. Instead, they make one pass in the defensive zone (sometimes a slingshot pass, sometimes not. But the slingshot isn’t the issue, the lack of puck movement through neutral is), and then one player skates the puck all the way through neutral and tries to enter the zone. NHL defenses are just too good for this.
There’s 64 feet from blue line to blue line on an NHL rink. If you give NHL players 64-plus feet to prepare for a zone entry with no passing through neutral, you are going to get stopped more often than not. Here’s an example of Nick Backstrom trying this type of entry against Dallas.
But there’s good news. Against Dallas, the Caps showed more puck movement through neutral. On their third powerplay of the game, the Caps first two zone entries both involved a pass through neutral and the results were positive. Here’s an example of one of the passes:
The Caps successfully entered the zone and were in formation within 5 seconds on both times they entered the puck after this type of entry. On the other five PP zone entries, the Caps failed to get into formation three times.
When the Caps make a pass through neutral on the PP, they are much more successful entering the zone and are able to get into their PP formation quicker. The Caps should continue to look for puck movement through the neutral zone on the PP like they did at times on Tuesday night vs Dallas.
Headline photo: NBC Sports Washington
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