By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 21, 2010; D01
MONTREAL -- Optional practices on days between games are often lightly attended. But that wasn't the case Tuesday at Bell Centre, where Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin and Mike Green -- as well as an unwelcome member of the Montreal Canadiens -- focused on the Washington Capitals' slumping power play, which has failed to convert on a season-worst 21 straight opportunities.
With Coach Bruce Boudreau barking instructions from the blue line, Ovechkin and his teammates spent much of the practice working on correcting the primary problems: lack of puck movement, not getting enough quality shots on net and failing to be in proper position to bang in rebounds.
Boudreau said he cut the power-play session short because Montreal Coach Jacques Martin was spotted watching, sparking more allegations of gamesmanship in a series that's already featured its fair share.
"I saw one of their head coaches on the other side," Boudreau said. "I don't know if he was watching, but you just want to [practice the power play] when you're amongst your own guys."
It's typical for an opposing coach to watch a morning skate from the seats. It's less common for coaches to observe an off-day practice, though NHL rules do not prohibit it.
"I haven't talked to Jacques about it," Boudreau said. "I'm sure he was out there talking to someone else, not paying much attention to us at all. But it was brought to my attention that he was out there, then I stopped doing it."
Martin called Boudreau's assertion a "scheme to deflect attention on the competition" and said he had stepped out of his office for less than a minute.
"If I wanted to watch their practice, it's easy to go incognito in our building," he added.
If there was ever a time to deflect attention, this would be it.
The Capitals' unit converted an NHL-best 25.2 percent of its opportunities in the regular season, but in the first three games of the playoffs, the franchise-record setting power play has been a bust, going 0 for 14 to extend a drought that began late in the regular season. On Monday, the Capitals had seven power plays for a whopping 11 minutes 29 seconds in a 5-1 win. But they mustered only five shots on goal and attempted only nine. Of the on-target shots, only two came from inside 40 feet.
"[The Canadiens] block some shots," Ovechkin said. "But we didn't move and we didn't do our job. [Boudreau] is right, we're terrible on the power play."
Much of the Canadiens' success on the penalty kill has been their smothering coverage of Ovechkin, who had 36 power-play points in 72 regular season games but has taken only one of his seven shots against Montreal on the power play.
In Game 3, Boudreau shifted Ovechkin around, using him at the point, the side boards and in front of the net. It didn't work, and Ovechkin finished without a shot attempt on the power play.
"You look at the goals that are being scored in the playoffs, it's goals that are coming from the points or the sides and guys are in front and there's a rebound and they score," said Green, the power-play quarterback. "It's not the pretty passes and goals anymore, it's the gritty ones."
On Tuesday, Ovechkin was back to his usual spot: the point on the first unit, which also included Green manning the other point, and Laich, Semin and Backstrom up front. The second unit was Tom Poti and Brendan Morrison working the points with Eric Fehr, Knuble and Tomas Fleischmann down low. (Joe Corvo took a "maintenance day" and missed practice.)
Boudreau did not deploy penalty killers in practice for fear of someone taking a shot off the foot.
"We'll have to do it more by video than anything else," he conceded.
As frustrating as the recent stretch of futility has been for the Capitals' players and coaches, they're taking comfort in the fact that they've managed to tally 10 even-strength goals the past two games to take control of the series.
"If we can get this power play going, and get a couple on them, we could be dangerous," Green said. "It's just a matter of us bearing down and getting the job done."
Capitals notes: Defenseman Shaone Morrisonn also did not practice. Morrisonn left Monday's game with an undisclosed ailment. Boudreau said Morrisonn will play Wednesday and that he hopes Corvo will. . . . Ovechkin delivered the day's best one-liner when he walked past goalie José Theodore in the dressing room as the goalie drank from a bottle of water. "Is your hand shaking?" Ovechkin cracked, making reference to his comment earlier this week about Montreal goalie Jaroslav Halak's arm shaking as he drank water following a Capitals goal.