By Ian Oland
The Washington Capitals have one of the worst power plays in the NHL, but if the Caps are going to fix it, they will do so with the same formation and same coaches.
Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan spoke about the team’s once-vaunted extra-man unit during a press conference with reporters on Wednesday. He admitted the power play’s performance has hurt the team in the standings, but the team is focused more on fixing and re-tooling what they have than wholesale changes.
“I don’t know about revamping but there are things that are going on in the league that you can adapt to,” MacLellan said. “I think in general we have pieces that are good power-play pieces. Shooters, playmakers, entry guys. I think the way we use those can be adapted.
“We look and give information (about) where goals are being scored,” MacLellan added. “Is our power play too perimeter? We should be scoring more goals in front of the net. We’re trying to incorporate philosophies like that to try and make it better. Try to play at a higher pace, move the puck quicker. Let’s do things quicker. It doesn’t mean you’re not in the same structure, but puck movement is a lot quicker. A little more movement, not so quick to get into your structure.”
HockeyViz shows that Washington’s power play is indeed too perimeter, generating about 12 percentage points less offensive danger than league average, with few chances coming from up close (the purple blob at top) and a large volume coming from the Ovi Spot, the big brown blob at the left faceoff circle.
The Capitals have utilized the 1-3-1 formation on the power play since Adam Oates got hired in 2013. Alex Ovechkin sits in the left circle — his office — looking for one-timers, John Carlson is Ovi’s setup man at the point, Nicklas Backstrom operates on the half wall, TJ Oshie looks for one-timers in the bumper position, and Evgeny Kuznetsov plays down low, usually playing a key role in entries into the zone.
The formation was revolutionary nine years ago– many teams played copycat — but now teams appear prepared for it, especially when the Capitals don’t make other players dangerous beyond Ovechkin.
There have been signs of life for the extra-man unit lately, which scored only one PPG in the month of December. The Capitals have a power-play goal in eight of their last 11 games, but it has come during a stretch against much weaker opponents that the Capitals mostly lost to.
MacLellan blamed the team’s injuries this season, particularly to Nicklas Backstrom, TJ Oshie, and Anthony Mantha, for the power play’s poor performance as well as the middle six at five-on-five.
“The team game sort of got out of sync with guys going in and out of the lineup,” he said. “Lineup’s changing. We’ve kind of lost our rhythm, lost our way.”
Instead of leading the team to victory, the Capitals’ power play is sapping momentum from the team and making them lose winnable games.
“Power plays hurt us through a stretch for us that took a lot of momentum away,” MacLellan said. “Hasn’t won games for us. Recent trends though I think have been positive. We’re scoring some goals. Chance rates are up. I think the coaches have emphasized a few different things about faster pace, more net-front presence. Scoring goals around the net versus perimeter goals. So I think that’s helped out a lot. Still concerned with shorthanded goals, shorthanded opportunities especially. I think we have to get a different compete level in those situations and not be giving scoring opportunities back. When we do that, it takes momentum away from our team and it takes a lot to get it back and get on the right track.
“It’s trending in the right direction, but it’s been an issue for us,” MacLellan admitted.
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