By Mark Giannotto
Tuesday, December 22, 2009; D06
Common sense says the Capitals' power play would only get better when arguably the best hockey player in the world returned to the lineup. Yet after surviving -- and often thriving -- during the eight games Alex Ovechkin missed because of a shoulder injury and suspension in late November and earlier this month, the Capitals have struggled with the man advantage now that their star has returned.
Following Saturday night's 0-for-4 showing in a 4-2 victory in Edmonton to close a western swing, the team is three for its past 23 power plays and has dropped from first in the NHL to fourth in power-play conversion since Ovechkin came back from a two-game suspension Dec. 7. Ovechkin, though, has two of those three goals, so what exactly is the problem?
Coach Bruce Boudreau, who called his team's power play "horrible" after another 0-for-4 performance in Friday's 3-2 loss to Vancouver, thinks the power outage is merely a function of the ebbs and flows associated with an 82-game schedule.
"I hope the suggestion there isn't, 'Let's take Alex off the power play,' " said Boudreau when asked about the team's struggles since Ovechkin's return. "We're going to go through these stages as every team in the world goes through them and then we're gonna go  for 32 again, and that's gonna bring the average back up again. I'm not worried about it. We're in a little funk on the power play; things will work out."
Five of the eight teams that would make the Eastern Conference playoffs if they began Monday have conversion rates that rank in the bottom third of the NHL, but perhaps no team relies on its special teams as a weapon more than the Capitals, who led the NHL with 50 power-play goals a year ago.
According to Brooks Laich, Washington's recent struggles have little to do with personnel. He thinks the team is being too fancy, passing too much instead of simply shooting aggressively at the net -- a strategy he said would create rebounds, deflections and eventually wear out the other team's penalty killers.
"Right now I think we're in a stretch where we're not getting breaks, but we're also not creating our breaks," said Laich. "You need shots to get to the net and that's what we're not doing. I don't think that has anything to do with Alex being inserted back into the lineup. You ask any player in the [locker] room: We'll take him on our power play any day."Varlamov practices
Goalie Semyon Varlamov, who hasn't played since Dec. 7 because of a groin injury, practiced on his own Monday with goaltending coach Arturs Irbe. The 21-year-old did not face any shots, mostly doing side-to-side skating drills. He's not expected to return until Dec. 30 against San Jose, at the earliest, though that depends on how the upcoming week of practice goes. Varlamov is 12-1-2 with a .924 save percentage. . . .
Forward Boyd Gordon, who has played just one game since Oct. 12 because of a bad back, was supposed to begin a rehab assignment in Hershey this weekend, but the snowfall on the East Coast threw his plans out of whack. After taking a car service from Vancouver to Seattle, the nasty weather sent him on flights from Seattle to Atlanta to Orlando to Cincinnati before he finally gave up on the assignment all together and returned to the D.C. area. Gordon did not practice yesterday because his equipment was lost somewhere in transit, but he is expected to return to the ice Tuesday. Boudreau would not say whether the rugged winger would go on another rehab stint this weekend. . . .
Defenseman Brian Pothier practiced and said his rib injury, suffered Dec. 9 against Buffalo, is feeling better but that he's still "limited," particularly when he's shooting backhanded. . . .
Center Kyle Wilson was sent back down to Hershey on Sunday after notching two assists in two games.