The Washington Capitals begin their first extended homestand of the season tonight still searching for a productive power play and hoping that their premier players, Jaromir Jagr and Peter Bondra, break out of a recent slide.
The Capitals (13-16-3) play 17 of their next 25 games at MCI Center and, with most of their game taking shape, need their best players to lead what has been an erratic attack.
Jagr and Bondra, the NHL's top two goal scorers over the last 10 years and the only Capitals with double-digit goal totals this season, have yet to turn the power play into the weapon it should be.
"Let's face it," Coach Bruce Cassidy said, "I don't have to sit here and say, 'Well, this guy has to do it.' You know who plays on our power play. Those are our upper-end guys. If they can get it going a little bit."
The power play has slipped to 20th in the NHL and is just 3 for 44 over the last 10 games. The Capitals are 12-5 when scoring on the power play this season, and 1-11-3 when failing to do so. They are 11-6-2 when either Bondra or Jagr scores a goal and 2-10-1 when neither does.
Bondra, who led the NHL in power play goals over the last two seasons, has scored in just two of his last 14 games and has not scored a power play goal in two weeks. Jagr has not scored a power play goal since Nov. 23, and in Washington's last 17 games, the duo has combined for two power play goals. Power play regulars Robert Lang (one point in five games) and Sergei Gonchar (no goals in seven games) are also slumping.
Bondra has been shuffled on and off the top power play unit, with the power play flowing through Jagr this season and Jagr and Bondra both preferring a spot on the right side of the rink, but Cassidy said he wants to get Bondra on the ice no later than a minute into power-play situations even if he is on the second unit. The coach has spread his talent over two units, added grinders such as Mike Grier and Steve Konowalchuk to the mix, simplified the approach and given explicit directives on how plays should be run after letting the players freelance for much of the season.
"That's where we're at with the power play," Cassidy said, "and I would expect our guys to want to buy into that, because I'm sure they're tired of not scoring."
Indeed, they are.
"For myself, the chances are there," Bondra said. "Maybe it's confidence and a little bit timing for the net. I'm not going to lie, definitely I wasn't playing with confidence, but at the same time I've been dealing with a lot of injuries lately. The last couple of months my ankle [which has a slight fracture] was really bugging me, maybe that's an excuse and maybe it's not.
"Maybe I shouldn't play and I should be healing and not dressing up for some games, but I came through and I played and maybe I didn't help myself or the team. Obviously, my game wasn't there for a while and now I'm looking forward to playing to my expectations and I'm feeling better."
Jagr has just one point over the last four games and has yet to produce a multi-goal game this season despite leading the NHL with 149 shots (he had 197 shots all of last season). Jagr leads the team with 16 goals, but 10 of them came in the first 17 games, and his dearth of huge games -- three- and four-point nights -- is what separates Jagr's play now from when he was winning scoring titles with regularity in Pittsburgh.
"I'm not scoring well, but I'm getting a lot more chances than I did even in Pittsburgh," Jagr said. "But I believe I still can score 50 [goals] this year. I just don't have those big nights, or even a two-goal game -- this is the only difference from before, that and the power play is not clicking. Before I might already have three games with five points; that's 15 more points. . . .
"I don't really concentrate on it; maybe I should do it but I don't know what's better for the team, I honestly don't know. It's a tough thing. Should I concentrate more on the team -- it's not working anyway for the team -- or should I concentrate on myself and try to win the game? I don't know. Before I was able to win games by myself if I score four goals or four points. That's the only difference, I don't have the big nights."
Capitals Notes: Enforcer Stephen Peat, who has been out since Nov. 9 with a hand injury, returned to practice yesterday and will visit a doctor this week to get playing clearance. . . . Winger Dainius Zubrus, who underwent hand surgery Dec. 4, is out of a cast and could return to practice in a week.