The Washington Capitals will open the 2022-23 season on Wednesday, October 12. Before then, it’s critical that you prepare yourself for all the incoming narratives. The only way to be safe is to read my season preview series.
Today’s episode of Uncle Good Tweet Pete’s Preseason Season Preview is about Washington’s continually degrading power play.
So here’s a thing I totally forgot: In the 2020-21 season, the Capitals ranked third in power-play conversion. Like so much else from the plague years, I had totally memory-holed that the Caps had a good power play back then.
And yet I have been unable to forget how bad the power play was last season. They team ranked 23rd, which is out of 32 teams, so really bad.
Something you didn’t know about me is that I can read minds, and right now you’re thinking about Blaine Forsythe, PP boss (also my nickname in preschool) and Washington’s longest-tenured coach. Forsythe has seen his pet project decline quite a bit in recent seasons.
Micah McCurdy’s model says Washington’s power-play’s dropped 13 percentage points from 2021 to 22 (from five points above average to eight points below).
Back to the mind-reader bit, I know you’re inclined to lay this failure at the feet of Forsythe, but here is me big-dogging you. It’s actually… Nicky Backstrom’s fault.
Because the power play has reliably been awesome as long as he’s quarterbacking it (and he’s definitely the one running the power play, even though he’s on the half wall instead of the blue line). Backstrom’s hip injury tripled the amount of no-nicky time the Caps PP had to endure last season, and it was — in my opinion — the biggest reason for them ranking in the league’s bottom third.
Here’s the Capitals power play over the last three seasons, but only when Backstrom is off the ice.
Based on the preseason, Forsythe will continue to use Kuznetsov as a replacement for Backstrom along the half wall. I don’t know enough about what his alternatives are to say Kuznetsov-as-Backstrom-fill-in is a mistake, but I can say that it’s not great. Kuznetsov has undeniable playmaking skill, but it has not translated into a thrilling power play. Yet.
So here are three possible futures: one is where Kuznetsov quarterbacks another kind-of-bad power play, two is where Kuznetsov digs deep and gets the power play humming, and three is where the Forsythe switches it up. I’d be happy with either of those last two.
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