RALEIGH, N.C. — The Washington Capitals were already trailing by a goal when they received their first power play Saturday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning. It offered an important opportunity to potentially tie the contest, answer back quickly to the goal they allowed and, at the very least, gain momentum.
None of that happened, though, as Washington struggled mightily to even enter the offensive zone or gain control of the puck for any length of time during the advantage.
A lack of flow and movement, rushes interrupted by going offside, turnovers and too few shots — particularly second- and third-chance looks with traffic — have come to characterize the Capitals’ power play in recent weeks. In tight games such as the 2-1 loss to the Lightning, a power-play goal can be the difference between leaving with a point or without one, which is why Washington needs to be able to rely on that output again.
“We’re wasting our own power plays,” forward Troy Brouwer said. “We need to just make sure we’ve got a good net presence and make sure we’re not making high-risk plays, because that’s what gets us in trouble.”
Much of the Capitals’ recent tribulations on the power play can likely be traced back to the absence of Nicklas Backstrom, who remains sidelined indefinitely by a concussion he suffered Jan. 3. Backstrom has missed 20 games, and during that stretch Washington is 8 for 55 on the power play, or an abysmal 14.5 percent success rate.
Backstrom averaged 3 minutes 22 seconds in power-play time per game in the 38 games he appeared in this season. Without him in the lineup, the Capitals are missing their best passer and setup artist who typically ran the unit from the half-board wall.
While Washington has used both Alexander Semin and second-year center Marcus Johansson in that role at times with mixed results, the unit as a whole still has a tendency to grow stagnant, which is why the power play has been a point of emphasis in recent practices.
“We’ve got to move the puck more,” Coach Dale Hunter explained recently. “We’re trying to pass it more. You can’t just make one play — the home run play. You’ve got to work it around, get the defenders out of position, that’s what we’re trying to work on.”
The Capitals cannot replace Backstrom’s skill on the power play, but they just welcomed back a standout who should aid their efforts with the man-advantage. On Saturday, top defenseman Mike Green skated 14:14 in his first game back since undergoing sports hernia surgery on Jan. 17.
Green only saw 44 seconds of time on the second power-play unit against Tampa Bay because the Capitals did not want to rush him into a heavy workload immediately upon returning. But his ice time will increase all around, including on the man advantage, with each successive appearance.
Though it is a small sample size, the Capitals are 11 for 37 on the power play (29.7 percent) with Green in the lineup this season. As he recovered from the surgery, the 26-year-old defenseman spent a lot of time watching from afar as his teammates struggled with the man advantage.
“We’ve gotta work harder. I think we take shots and we’re getting quality shots, but we’re not working hard enough to get it back,” Green said. “Any time the puck goes into the corner or we dump it, they’re retrieving the puck and they’re dumping it down the ice. It’s killing a lot of our momentum and a lot of our time on the power play.”
Capitals notes: The NHL announced a $2,500 fine for Florida’s Kris Versteeg, stemming from a hit he put on Washington’s Jeff Halpern in the final seconds of a 2-1 win over the Panthers on Friday. . . .
Washington reassigned center Keith Aucoin to the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears. The team is carrying 22 players on its active roster, which given its current configuration would allow for the Capitals to add roughly $1 million worth of annualized salary-cap hits before the trade deadline on Feb. 27.