Capitals Address Past Power-Play Problems

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Last season, Washington Capitals Coach Glen Hanlon juggled the personnel on the power-play unit from game to game. He even experimented with vastly different strategies.

None of the changes, though, made much of a difference on the scoreboard. Because of the club's skill-starved lineup, one that became even thinner after the February trade deadline, the unit languished near the bottom of the NHL, ranking 24th with 16.4 percent effectiveness. It also yielded 14 short-handed goals, which was the second highest total (tied) in the league.

But there's good reason to believe the Capitals' statistics in that category will be much improved this season. Actually, there are three of them: Michael Nylander (14 power-play goals last season), Tom Poti (6) and Viktor Kozlov (5). Put them with Alexander Semin and Alex Ovechkin (17 and 16 goals, respectively), and it's possible, if not likely, Washington will be downright dangerous on the power play.

Hanlon and his staff have decided to spread the talent across two units, rather than stacking one group with the five best players. Ovechkin, Kozlov and Chris Clark will be the forwards on one of them; Semin, Nylander and rookie Nicklas Backstrom will skate on the other.

Poti is the only defenseman who has secured a spot; he'll man the point when Ovechkin's group is on the ice. Four other defensemen -- Josef Boumedienne, Mike Green, Brian Pothier and Jame Pollock-- are auditioning for playing time.

"The teams we feel are the hardest to defend against are the ones with two with really even power-play groups," said Hanlon, whose team hosts the Carolina Hurricanes in a preseason game tonight at Verizon Center. "We think that's the strongest. . . . We also like the fact that lots of times they are playing with each other [at even strength] so it makes things easier on your line rotations."

Ovechkin cracked a smile when asked how much improvement he expects to see once the regular season begins Oct. 5.

"Our two [units] should make us one of the best power plays in the league," the Russian winger said. "We have good forwards and good defense now. If one teams puts its shut-down line on us, we have another line that can score, too."

Poti echoed Ovechkin's enthusiasm.

"The big thing is confidence," he said. "I think we're going to go out there expecting to score."

-- Tarik El-Bashir

© 2007 The Washington Post Company