Capitals Look to Improve Weak Power-Play Production

Alex Ovechkin, right, tried to break away from Carolina defenseman Bret Hedican during Friday night's 2-1 loss.
Alex Ovechkin, right, tried to break away from Carolina defenseman Bret Hedican during Friday night's 2-1 loss. (By Manuel Balce Ceneta -- Associated Press)
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By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 10, 2008

When the Washington Capitals host the New York Rangers this afternoon at Verizon Center, Coach Bruce Boudreau said he wants to see the same effort and determination his team displayed during Friday's costly 2-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.

He also wants to see a power-play goal -- or three.

Washington's problematic power play was a season-worst 0 for 7 against the Hurricanes. It came up empty during 1 minute 10 seconds of five-on-three play early in the second period and, once again, was plagued by skilled forwards too often seeking perfect passes instead of settling for simple ones. As a result, the unit mustered just eight shots during 11:10 of power-play time in the loss, which knocked Washington out of first place and reinstalled the Hurricanes atop the Southeast Division.

"Sometimes when you're not scoring on the power play, you get overly frustrated," Boudreau said. "But the good players and the good units fight through that."

Boudreau dedicated most of yesterday's practice to fixing power-play unit, which is 1 for 24 the past eight games after going 8 for 22 in the four games preceding the downturn. For the season, the Capitals are 1 for 15 with the two-man advantage and rank 18th overall with an effectiveness rate of 16.7 percent.

Boudreau wants that number much closer to 20 percent and, in a move designed to achieve that, said he plans to start relying on two units, beginning with today's matinee.

"For the most part, we've been going with one unit," Boudreau said. "Whether we succeed or whether we fail, they go over the boards first. I don't know if a, that's fair or b, that's the way to do it. Most good teams -- look at the Canadiens or Detroit -- they have two good units. They come at you with either one, and they force the other team to be defend both types. We've got that ability."

Based on the alignment at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, the first will consist of forwards Alex Ovechkin, Eric Fehr, Tomas Fleischmann and Nicklas Backstrom and defenseman Tom Poti. Ovechkin (league-best 16 power-play tallies) and Poti will man the points. The second unit will include forwards Alexander Semin, Viktor Kozlov and Brooks Laich plus Ovechkin and defenseman Mike Green. Ovechkin will be stationed at the blue line in the second configuration.

"Every team goes through a stretch like this on the power play," Poti said. "We have to outwork the other four guys, shoot the puck more, get a rebound and get an ugly goal."

Laich pinned the power-play struggles on being "too cute."

"One thing we're doing to much of is we're trying too many saucer passes, trying to make nice plays rather than zipping the puck around," said Laich, who score the team's last power-play tally, a first-period strike against Toronto seven games ago. "If you look at the successful power plays -- the Montreals, the Detroits -- they make hard, crisp tape-to-tape passes, then they shoot the puck and they get the scoring chance. We have to get away from trying to make things too pretty. We have to get traffic to the net, pucks to the net and hopefully get a greasy one."

Boudreau also made some tweaks to his forward combinations in an effort to spark the inconsistent offense. The most significant switch occurred on the top line, where Ovechkin, Backstrom and Kozlov have been reunited. The second line was centered by Laich, who was flanked by wingers Fleischmann and Semin. Fehr, meantime, was dropped to the fourth line and is expected to skate with Matt Pettinger and Boyd Gordon against the Rangers.

"They had a lot of success together," Boudreau said of the Ovechkin-Backstrom-Kozlov trio. "Sometimes you want two and three scoring units together, but the bottom line is those [other lines] have got to find a way to score. They need to get out there and get the job done."

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