The video projector will be set up well before today's 11 a.m. practice. The diagrams will be on the chalkboard prior to the Washington Capitals' arrival. Coach Ron Wilson will be waiting for his players. The topic du jour will be the power play.
The Capitals have scored just one power-play goal in their last 11 chances (2 of 28) and are 9 for 65 (13.8 percent) this season. Only the New York Rangers have scored fewer power-play goals. The last time Wilson held a lengthy teaching session, the Capitals snapped out of a penalty-killing slumber. Since falling to last in the league, they have killed 53 straight penalties (a club record) over 12 straight games (tying the post-expansion NHL record).
"We'll try to patch this up the way we fixed our penalty-killing," Wilson said. "The bottom line is we're not working hard enough. We relax because we've got an extra man and that's the last time we should be relaxing. That's the time to really dig in and play hard, and we're not playing hard enough. We're not setting up in the offensive zone, we're going in and we're pretty skittish with the puck. In Boston [Saturday] we never got the puck set up anywhere."
Saturday's game was merely the latest example of the futility. Several games have slipped away that might not have if the Capitals had found the net just once on the power play. They let third-period leads get away against the Rangers and Carolina recently--both games could have been victories had they scored on the power play. They have been held without a power-play goal in eight of the last nine games and 12 of the last 16.
Four of their nine power-play goals came in the first three games.
"We don't have that urgency--the same urgency as when we play five-on-five or four-on-five," defenseman Calle Johansson said. "We don't work as hard. I don't know what we're thinking, but all of a sudden we relax instead of being even more pumped up or feisty about it.
"We really had a chance to put some games away--if you're up by two goals and have a power play you have a chance to put a game away. That's the way we have to look at it instead of seeing it as two minutes to kill time. I think urgency is a good word for it. We have to get it in our heads because it's really important. A lot of games are won these days on special teams."
Johansson said the laid-back attitude is evident on the bench. Rather than feed off a power play and get fired up, there is little chatter among the Capitals. Wilson has noted how quiet the dressing room often is before games and between periods. There is a dearth of vocal leaders on the team with players such as Mark Tinordi and Craig Berube departed; captains such as Adam Oates and Johansson tend to lead by example.
"We need more talk," Johansson said. "I don't think there is enough talk and pumping each other up, whatever you want to call it--maybe just more talk overall, whether it's a positive or telling a guy what he has to do differently to be successful.
"There's too little talk among ourselves when we're on the bench on the power play. There's no mystery to it--it's as much my fault as anybody else. If I start talking other guys start talking too. We have to do that and we have to start now."
Wilson said he will experiment with putting forwards on the point on the power play, looking to spur more creativity, citing rookie Jeff Halpern as a candidate. Johansson and Dmitri Mironov have done a fine job running the first power-play unit with Sergei Gonchar injured, but Wilson is still trying to develop a second set of players to complement them. For now, forwards from the first and second line comprise the two units--only Peter Bondra has scored more than one power-play goal, with three--but that could change.
"Playing on the power play is a special thing to be able do," Wilson said. "I think sometimes guys take it for granted, and if I have to play third and fourth line guys on the power play to get the effort to where it should be, then that's the way we'll go."
Capitals Notes: Center Jan Bulis (rib muscle strain) did not practice and is doubtful for Wednesday's game. Gonchar (muscle strain) and Jamie Huscroft (ribs) won't play Wednesday, Wilson said. Joe Reekie (bruised foot) will practice today and is day-to-day. . . . Backup goalie Craig Billington will start Friday, Wilson said.