Washington Capitals' power play continues to flicker

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By Tarik El-Bashir
Saturday, October 24, 2009

SYOSSET, N.Y. -- When the Washington Capitals' power play is clicking, it can produce oohs and ahs as well as goals in bunches. When it's not, well, it looks the way it did Thursday in Atlanta -- out of sync.

With a soft sheet of ice under the players' skates and Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom slogging through a rare off night, the power play went a season-worst 0 for 7 in the Capitals' 5-4 victory over the Thrashers. It was the first time this season they won a game without striking at least once on the power play.

"I take a lot of pride in it because I run the power play," Coach Bruce Boudreau said Friday on Long Island, where the Capitals were preparing for Saturday's game against 2009 first overall draft pick John Tavares and the struggling New York Islanders. "And when you're 0 for 7 -- I don't care what the other team's [penalty kill] percentage is -- you have to get some of them in the net."

Boudreau called the power play's performance in Atlanta the worst of his Washington tenure. Considering the Capitals' ineffectiveness at Philips Arena, it would be hard to argue with him.

Even with a two-man advantage for 1 minute 8 seconds late in the third period as the Capitals clung to a 5-3 lead, the unit seemed disorganized and imprecise and mustered only four shots. Players made passes when a shot might have been the prudent choice; they took shots just as back-door opportunities opened up.

"When you have five minutes to go in the game, and you have a five-on-three, you have to score," Boudreau lamented. "And we didn't do it."

Boudreau is critical because he knows how good the power play can be.

Led by Ovechkin, Backstrom, Mike Green, Alexander Semin and Brooks Laich, the Capitals' power play finished second to Detroit's in effectiveness last season, converting opportunities at a 25.2 percent rate. It was the second-best percentage since Pittsburgh connected at a 26.0 percent clip in 1995-96.

But so far this season, the Capitals have had only one game in which they've registered more than one power-play goal. The vaunted unit's success rate has dropped to 18.2 percent, or 19th in the league (through Thursday's games).

Some of the power play's struggles this season, according to Laich, are because other teams are spending more time game-planning to stop it.

"Our power play is not going to sneak up on anybody," Laich said. "Teams know that they have to gear up. The other teams pre-scout us. It was a combination of that, and us not making smart decisions with the puck."

Another reason is Ovechkin's slow start on the power play. The two-time MVP, who led the league with 19 power-play goals last season, has only one tally with the man advantage, and he didn't get it until Saturday.

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© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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