Most of the Washington Capitals didn't go anywhere near the ice yesterday at Piney Orchard Ice Arena. Instead they met in an office down the hallway to discuss a problem that's every bit as exhausting as a 90-minute cardiovascular workout: the team's power play.
The Capitals, who have languished near the bottom of the league in power-play percentage all season, went 1 for 10 in a 5-2 loss to the Nashville Predators on Wednesday at MCI Center. Rookie Alex Ovechkin scored a power-play goal, but he and his teammates wasted a lengthy five-on-three opportunity for the second time in three games, then went 0 for 5 in the critical third period.
So the forwards and defensemen who skate on the first and second power-play units were called into separate, closed-door video and discussion sessions. Afterward, they struggled to explain why the power play is the second worst (12.1 percent) in the NHL. (Only Columbus's 10.1 percent is worse). The Capitals have also permitted seven short-handed goals, which is tied for most in the league with Colorado.
"We started [the season] one way, and we didn't get much more than 12 percent," said Coach Glen Hanlon. "Then we changed a few people, went a few more games, and didn't get much more than 12 percent. Then we tried playing the regular lines for a few games, and we didn't get much more than 12 percent.
"There's going to be some nights like [Wednesday] when we are 1 for 10, and it doesn't look like we're organized. [But] we have faith in the players that they are going to work their way through it."
Tonight, the Capitals face their toughest opponent of the season when Western Conference-leading Detroit visits MCI Center. The Red Wings, by comparison, have the league's best power play, scoring 25 percent of the time. Their 41 goals with the man advantage is 22 more than Washington's power-play total.
"First you have to set it up," center Dainius Zubrus said, referring to the Capitals' failed five-on-three against the Predators. "There were a few times when we couldn't even do that. It's not like we didn't work on it. For whatever reason, we practice one thing, and we get out there and do something else. Guys have to put the puck in the net."
In recent games, the first power-play unit has consisted of Ovechkin (along the side boards), Jeff Halpern (in front of the goal), Andrew Cassels (down low) and defensemen Jamie Heward and Bryan Muir along the blue line. Ovechkin, the team's leading scorer, has seven power-play goals. None of his teammates has more than three.
"There's a little bit of everything creeping into it," Heward said. "We've worked enough on it, we've watched enough video, we've had enough meetings. That five-on-three came early, and maybe we didn't have a sense of urgency. But we need to get it done.
"Sometimes we get too cute with it. Alex can be as cute as he wants, but the rest of us are guys who need to shoot the puck."
Defenseman Steve Eminger, who skates on the second unit, agreed with Heward's assessment.
"We need to make things simple, make two passes and take the shot," he said. "You don't want to just throw it at the net. You have to take smart shots. Sometimes we're forcing shots or trying to make tough passes through seams. We need to settle it down."
Hanlon's biggest concern, he said, is making sure the power-play problems don't discourage the players, which could negatively impact the team's even-strength play.
"We have to make sure we don't develop a defeatist type of an attitude," Hanlon said. "We can't afford that."