The power play has been one of the bright spots this season for the 14th place Capitals. But even owning the third best success rate in the league at 24.2 percent doesn’t mean there aren’t things that need improvement.
Washington spent a significant portion of its practice in Pittsburgh Wednesday working on the man advantage, reinforcing the options that are available and trying to make the group’s actions more fluid before back-to-back games at the Winnipeg Jets.
That the Capitals went 1-for-5 with only four shots on goal on the power play against Pittsburgh the night before in a 2-1 loss, including a failed four-minute attempt in the third period, was certainly no coincidence.
“He just wants to make sure we know where our outs are where are options are,” Troy Brouwer said. “Making sure guys are making good reads and not trying to force things because as the PP went on [Tuesday against the Penguins] that’s what we started to try and do. Even on the breakouts we were forcing passes into guys who are by themselves and that’s why we kept getting it turned back.”
Over the past 10 games the power play has gone 6-for-32, a success rate of only 18.75 percent. There’s not a lot of time to practice in this compressed schedule and the Capitals knew it was good to get in some quality time to work on the power play.
“It can always get better. I like that you always keep working on stuff. That’s what makes you great,” Marcus Johansson said. “You can’t, because you’re good a couple games or good for a while, you can’t stop working on it.”
For Coach Adam Oates, Wednesday’s power-play work in practice was mainly about repetition. Nicklas Backstrom is the quarterback on the half-wall, and once the Capitals get set up, the initial options run through him. Making sure Backstrom and every player on the ice is familiar with those possibilities and their reads become instinctual is key.
“Technically we start with [Nicklas Backstrom] and Backie’s got five options. We just want to keep him fresh so he knows where they are, make sure everybody knows where they are,” said Oates, who compared the role to New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. “He gets five choices after he throws the ball. Next snap, Tom Brady gets the ball. [If] he gets picked off, Tom Brady gets the ball and he goes through the same five choices. So you’ve got to get him conditioned on what those reads are. “
Backstrom’s not the only one with the responsibility of learning reads and making the correct play. Each time a player has the puck on the power play they have options, Oates wants those to become automatic so that the Capitals can pick the correct one based on how an opposing penalty kill tries to attack them.
Oates doesn’t want to see all of the goals on the power play come from one or two main areas of the ice. This year many have come from familiar spots – the majority of Ovechkin’s team-high eight power-play goals were from the left circle, while Brouwer and Mike Ribeiro often score from in front. Ideally he wants the Capitals to have the balanced ability to score from every area, in every way, by taking advantage by what is made available to them by the opposing penalty kill.
“The power play is not designed for Ovi. There’s five guys, he’s probably three of the 10 options, but obviously a lot of rebounds go his direction and that’s why he’s there,” Oates said. “We should be able to stuff the puck, point shot, rebound, Brou scores from the diamond, backdoor plays, traffic, second chances. They’re all supposed to work.”