The Washington Capitals and their power play have been a major topic this season and that isn’t going to stop until they figure things out. Coming into Monday, their man advantage unit has scored just three total power play goals in 43 opportunities.
That is good for a 7 percent success rate, the worst effectiveness in the entire NHL. For a team that has the all-time power play goals leader and built foundation for success on top of a lethal power play in the past, that’s baffling and unfamiliar territory.
Head coach Spencer Carbery believes he has identified two simple things that the team needs to consistently hammer down if they want to right the sinking ship. He spoke to assembled media about those two things after practice on Monday.
“For me, it’s entries and puck recoveries,” Carbery said. “That’s where power plays start for me. Usually when you’re struggling you’re not able to enter and gain possession consistently enough. That’s when it can really spiral because you can talk all you want about what you’re doing with shots, deliveries, how you’re getting pucks to the net, formation, all that different stuff but it means absolutely nothing if you can’t enter the zone and set up with possession. So, that’s number one.”
For over 15 years, the Capitals’ power play zone entries have in part heavily relied on legendary center Nicklas Backstrom’s craftiness and passing ability to be successful. They no longer have Backstrom in their lineup and may never again.
A lot of the burden is now placed on Evgeny Kuznetsov as other big names around him on the top unit in Alex Ovechkin and TJ Oshie aren’t really players that can do a lot of puck carrying on their own anymore. Kuznetsov has had his own, well-documented offensive struggles and the Capitals are still running the same slingshot entry they have for a decade that every team has scouted extensively.
But, Carbery has seemingly keyed in on the major problem at hand. Because when the Capitals do actually get set up in the zone, they are creating enough chances to score.
Before Saturday’s matchup with Columbus, the Capitals’ power play ranked 10th in the league with 113.2 shots per hour, third in the league with 10.5 expected goals per hour, and fifth in the league with 32.1 high-danger chances per hour.
Carbery believes something with their in-zone play is a little off as well. The rookie bench boss believes his players are not executing well enough in board battles and puck retrieval attempts.
“The second thing is puck recoveries,” Carbery said. “There’s a lot of situations on the power play where the puck goes to the corner and it’s a penalty killer and a power play player and usually the power play player is going to get first touch on it but there’s a ton of pressure coming. Can you get out of that situation and get set back up? We just haven’t done that consistently enough so we really have to talk about that, look at it, break it down, and figure out why we’re not. It starts on faceoffs. We’re really, really struggling on power play faceoffs so we need to come up with a gameplan of what’s our loss strategy.”
Carbery was asked on Monday if Dylan Strome’s assessment that part of the puck recovery issue is that the team has to “want it” more. While he backed up his center some, Carbery wasn’t ready to let the hockey cliche of giving it 110 percent blur the actual problem he is seeing. Instead, he pointed at a lack of skill plays being made by the team’s top players.
“Part of it, he’s absolutely right,” Carbery said. “The other part sometimes gets overlooked because when you look on social media you watch power plays and see the tic-tac-toe or the big shot but a very undervalued skill of elite NHL players is your ability to get out of those situations and make a play out of it. That’s a skill. Part of it is work, part of it is will, part of it is determination. No question, Stromer’s right. The other part is can you use deception, spin out of it, you know where your best option is, execute that play to the middle.
“If you look at a lot of our touches they end up dead-ending and it ends up in a 200-foot clear,” Carbery continued. “We have to use our skill and hockey sense and poise and awareness to get out of those tight spots. That’s what elite players do and that’s why they make power plays effective. If you watch really good power plays, they do that at an extremely high level. So, we gotta use our skill in those spots.”
The Capitals scored all three of their power play goals this season in a span of four days in late October. They have yet to score a single time on a man advantage 20 days and seven games into November.
By this time last year, the Capitals had already struck 14 times up a man. That power play ended up finishing dead middle in the NHL at 21.2 percent effectiveness. Today’s Capitals would be thrilled with those results so it’s clear changes need to be made and Carbery is aware of that.
Headline photo: Katie Adler/RMNB
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