Washington had the league’s best power play last season (26.8 percent efficiency) and started this season 7-for-12 in the first three games. Since then, the Capitals are 0-for-7 with just seven power-play shots. Only one of those attempts has been taken by Alex Ovechkin, indicating that perhaps teams are starting to find a way to stymie the league’s most dangerous offensive threat during the man advantage.
Colorado was especially effective in keeping Ovechkin off the scoreboard during a 5-1 rout Saturday night, using the weak side defender to play him man-to-man.
During the second power play of the night, it took Washington 40 seconds to get established in the offensive zone and get the puck on Mike Green’s stick. Then it was the usual back and forth between Green, Backstrom and Grabovski, looking to set up the patented one-timer to Ovechkin. Only this time, the weak-side defender was playing Ovechkin man-to-man, cutting off this option.
When Ovechkin did get to touch the puck, Alex Tanguay didn’t give him any shooting lanes, so he needed to pass it back to Green on the point. “It’s really a 4-on-3 for the Caps,” Craig
Laughton Laughlin, color analyst for CSN, explained on the broadcast, “because [Colorado is] shading Alex Ovechkin way off the other side so the Caps really don’t have that option to the Great Eight.”
Backstrom would pass it to Grabovski, who attempted a back-door pass to Ovechkin, but that went wide. Then, with 40 seconds left, Colorado cleared the zone. Washington wouldn’t gain the zone again until Green carried the puck in with 10 seconds remaining on the power play, only to see his pass through the slot to Ward hit the half-board, making it a shotless power play for the Capitals.
In the book Hockey Plays and Strategies, co-writers Mike Johnston and former Washington Capital Ryan Walter explain that the key to success with the 1-3-1 formation is “for the top three players to focus on shooting or one-timing the puck.” However, prevent Ovechkin from shooting and you take away a large portion of Washington’s scoring options.
Ovechkin has taken 42 percent of the power-play shots this year, with Green (24 percent) and Backstrom (9 percent) a distant second and third, respectively. If teams are content with taking their chances with the player in the slot (Troy Brouwer, one shot in 2013-14) or down low (Mikhail Grabovski, three shots) and neither of those players look to shoot first, the Capitals may continue to struggle to put points on the board.
Neil Greenberg, when he isn’t watching the games, analyzes advanced statistics in the NHL and prefers to be called a geek rather than a nerd. Follow him on Twitter: @ngreenberg.