By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 14, 2009
For many of the Washington Capitals, their power play evokes a sense of dependability reminiscent of the old unofficial slogan of the U.S. P ostal Service -- come rain, sleet, hail or snow, it can be counted on to deliver.
On Thursday, both Philadelphia and Washington scored even-strength goals, but the Capitals converted on one of only two power-play chances, while the Flyers failed on four tries.
"It wasn't the game-winner, but that's a huge difference in the game," Brooks Laich said. "We talk about the power play before each game. . . . You want to have an emphasis on taking advantage of those opportunities, especially when your team goes through a little rut like we just went through. It's your special teams and your power play that have to carry you through and help you break out of it."
Converting 24.3 percent of their opportunities (69 of 284) the Capitals own the second-best power play in the NHL, trailing only Detroit's 27.2 percent success rate, as they head into tonight's game against the Carolina Hurricanes at Verizon Center. These Capitals average a goal a game with the man-advantage -- the first time Washington has done so since the 1992-93 season --and there have only been two instances this season when they failed to score a power-play goal in consecutive games.
If they continue to produce at this pace, this year's squad will break yet another club record with the best power play in franchise history, eclipsing the 23.9 mark (79 of 331) set in 1984-85.
"It always seems though if we can keep our success going on [the] power play we'll keep winning," Nicklas Backstrom said. "Like we need [the power play] sometimes. It can help keep us going, give us energy, keep us pushing in games."
The unit's effectiveness is easy enough to trace. Washington and Detroit are the only teams in the league with five players who have at least seven power-play tallies. With regular scoring threats like Mike Green (16), Alex Ovechkin (15), Backstrom (11), Laich (8) and Tomas Fleischmann (7) buzzing around in the offensive zone it is nearly impossible for an opposing team to focus on one goal scorer.
While power-play success will be vital to the Capitals' postseason success, a side effect of its prominence is already apparent as teams resort to the best defense against the power play -- limiting the number of penalties.
"We went through a stretch where we had seven games in a row where a team didn't take a penalty in the third period," Coach Bruce Boudreau said.
The Capitals received just 15 third-period power plays in the past 20 games while their opponents earned 40. Part of the discrepancy likely stems from Washington's 351 minor penalties, fourth-most in the league, but Washington players are noticing a diminishing number of power-play chances too often to believe it's not in an opponent's game plan.
"We hope that teams fear playing us in the sense that they can't take penalties," Laich said. "Then maybe they're not as physical, they're not as aggressive, they're not as tight checking because they're wary of being in the box. We can still capitalize on our chances when we get the opportunity, but to set teams back and intimidate them and try to get them off their game plan a little bit is a great thing."
Capitals Notes: Neither Sergei Fedorov nor Donald Brashear took part in yesterday's practice, but Boudreau would not rule out either forward for tonight's game against the Hurricanes. According to Boudreau, Fedorov was still sick and Brashear was walking much better two days after he sprained his knee against Nashville. Goaltender José Theodore was the only player given the day off. . . . Carolina sits in the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot with 78 points. The Hurricanes are one of five teams within five points of fifth-place Montreal, vying for the final three postseason berths. "We know they're hungry," Boudreau said. "The situations between Carolina and us are almost totally reversed from this time last year. So we know what they're going through, and we know how they're playing."