The Washington Capitals introduced new head coach Spencer Carbery on Thursday and the first-time bench boss was asked about the changes he plans to make to how the team will play.
Carbery was the mastermind behind a Toronto Maple Leafs power play that sat at or near the top of the league in both seasons he was in charge of it. Naturally, Carbery was asked what his plans are for a Capitals power play that has become less productive in recent years and how Alex Ovechkin, the NHL’s all-time leader in power play goals, factors into those plans.
The Capitals in the past two, full 82-game seasons have seen their once vaunted man advantage group drop to the 20th best unit in the NHL. Prior to Peter Laviolette’s tenure with the club, the Caps operated as the second-best team on the power play in the NHL (22.2%) when you combine the numbers from Barry Trotz’ and Todd Reirden’s time as head coaches.
From an individual perspective, Ovechkin’s 14 power play goals during the 2022-23 campaign was his lowest single-season (82 games) total since the 2011-12 season where he scored 13 times a man to the good. The 3:38 of power play ice time per game that Ovechkin played during that season over a decade ago was the lowest in his career. By comparison, he played 4:42 of power play ice time last year and yet only scored one more goal.
Carbery was asked how he personally perceives the Caps’ power play and how he’ll balance keeping The Great Eight happy and getting his goals with making the unit a a whole successful again. He hinted that some of that responsibility will be placed on the shoulders of a soon-to-be-hired assistant coach and general manager Brian MacLellan confirmed that to NHL.com’s Tom Gulitti.
“That’ll be a major focus of mine as we look to round out the staff,” Carbery responded. “Specifically with the Xs and Os part of it, I’ve followed our power play very, very closely over the last two years. Watched them all. I think there’s some things that we can do there. It’s a very, very important part that we will have to make sure we are paying close attention to and make quality decisions in terms of our staff, [our] direction, and what we’re trying to accomplish as a group as it relates to the power play.”
In Toronto, the season before Carbery’s arrival, the Maple Leafs were operating at an even 20 percent effectiveness which just so happens to match the percentage the Capitals have put up the past two season. Carbery arrived and the Toronto unit shot up to first in the league at 27.3 percent effectiveness in the 2021-22 season and then finished ranked second-best during the 2022-23 season, behind only the Edmonton Oilers.
The rookie head coach plans to take what worked from his time up north to DC. “There were some certain things that I brought to that group and ideas that I had and blended that with the way that those guys saw things,” Carbery said. “They wanted to do things and [I grabbed input from] all those great players there and [tried] to create a foundation of how we were going to do things. It was a great experience. Took a lot from it and a lot of those things from a foundational [perspective] and little things that we did really well, absolutely those things are things that will translate.”
299 of Ovechkin’s 822 career goals have come with the Capitals on a power play. That sort of success special teams wise is a large reason why the Caps captain is closing in on Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goals record (894) that was once seen as an untouchable mark.
Carbery spoke about the importance of that potential accomplishment and how serious he’ll take it as Ovechkin’s coach. “It’s a huge responsibility for me as a head coach,” Carbery said. “I’ve watched and seen his greatness up close indirectly. It’s my job as a head coach to put him in situations where he can be successful and that’s what my challenge is and I don’t take that lightly at all. That’ll work into how we play as a group. One of my focuses is how we put him in situations to succeed.”
First things first, will be hiring the right assistant that matches philosophically with Carbery’s power play vision. For the past decade, those duties have been taken care of by Blaine Forsythe, who departed the organization when it was agreed Laviolette would not be returning.
Headline photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB
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