Capitals stress patience when facing Rangers’ penalty kill

May 4, 2013
(Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
(Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

Mike Green wasn’t trying to blast a shot off the end boards on the power play in the second period Thursday night. No, the Capitals’ top defenseman was simply trying to avoid the shot blockers on the New York penalty kill.

“I intentionally shot wide to miss the blocked shot, but I was just trying to put it on net, maybe hit his pillows and bounce out,” said Green, whose shot wound up caroming out in front for an easy put-back goal by Alex Ovechkin that tied the game at 1.

While it wasn’t an intentional setup by Green, the play spoke to how the Rangers’ aggressive penalty kill can force even the NHL’s most effective power play in the regular season to tweak its strategy slightly.

“They press you hard. They’re desperate. They block shots. You can see them diving all over the middle of the ice when we had a couple looks there, but it’s part of their plan,” Troy Brouwer said. “They’re trying to neutralize our PP and they did for the first three PPs we had last night. It’s a different look that we’re not used to seeing game in and game out, and we have to be patient and find ways to work around it.”

Washington, which converted at a league-best 26.8 percent on the man advantage in the regular season, went just 1-for-5 in Game 1.  New York managed to disrupt some of the Capitals’ passes at the top of the zone, creating shorthanded chances and sometimes more pressure than the power pay itself.

Mike Ribeiro chalked those turnovers up to a lack of clean zone entries and the fact that the Capitals cobbled together power-play units on its first two chances. Neither of Washington’s first two power-play chances started with the true top unit because either Ribeiro or Nicklas Backstrom had been on the ice immediately before or during the penalty call.

“Once we got out there the five together, I think we were a little bit different. Obviously your entries, you want it to be better and it wasn’t really what they were doing. It was more our play with the puck. Just take better care of it,” said Ribeiro, who felt that the Capitals needed to clean up their execution rather than make any substantial fixes.

“It was more us that didn’t execute what we were supposed to do,” he said. “And they kind of just had scoring chances out of that after that.”

In addition to New York’s ability to force turnovers, there is the ever-present threat of its ability to turn blocked shots into odd-man rushes the other way. For the most part in Game 1, though, the Capitals hesitated on pulling the trigger and avoided shooting into New York bodies.

There was point in the first period where Backstrom and Green both passed up shots in order to pull up and avoid shot blockers to maintain possession while searching for a higher-quality opportunity. It wasn’t flawless execution, but if the adjustments to the Rangers’ block attempts start to flow more naturally, it should lead to a more fluid power play.

“I think we got to stick with it. We gotta work the puck movements a little bit better and get those shots through,” Backstrom said. “You’ve got to try to get around them somehow. You know they’re probably the best team at blocking shots, just got to adjust. We watch the tapes, we know how they play, just got to try to get around them.”

– On Hockey: Caps need power play to remain a strength against Rangers

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