The most used adjective in this series between the Capitals and Bruins has been tight. The defense on both sides is tight, even-strength play is tight, they’re tight games – you get the idea.
In a matchup like this, quality scoring chances at even strength can be a rarity. Many shots for both teams come from the outside, second- and third-chance looks close in and around the crease are few and far between as the defenses try to clear bodies out from in front.
Washington and Boston have combined for four goals in 144 minutes 14 seconds of play in this series, and as each squad tries to find more offense, they will try to ignite their dormant power play.
The Capitals’ power play has been inconsistent at best this season. It closed out the regular season going 2-for-24 and in this first-round series, the unit is 0-for-5 with eight shots on goal during those advantages. Meanwhile, Boston is 0-for-6 on the power play in the series.
Through the first two games, Coach Dale Hunter’s power-play units have consisted of the same sets of players. On the first: Brooks Laich, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin with Alex Ovechkin and Mike Green on the points. The second: Troy Brouwer, Marcus Johansson, Keith Aucoin with Dennis Wideman and John Carlson up top.
Hunter said he isn’t planning any changes to the personnel: “It’s fine right now. We got a couple chances to score. We’re not getting many power plays, so it’s one of those things that we’ve just got to get pucks through more.”
The common remedies to fix an ailing power play are universal: get more shots, get more traffic in front of the opposing goaltender so he can’t see those shots, make sure there are bodies in front to get rebound opportunities and keep the penalty-killers moving with quick, fluid passing.
“If we’re going to win this series, we’ve got to start scoring on the PP too,” Nicklas Backstrom said. “I don’t think we’ve been shooting enough. It’s all about moving the puck quick and shots and getting rebounds, I think. I feel like all the other teams that scoring on the power play, that’s how they score. That’s how we have to do it too.”
In Game 2, Washington received an early power play less than two minutes into the contest. It was the Capitals’ best showing on the man-advantage in the series as they put five shots on Tim Thomas and established themselves in the offensive zone for the bulk of the advantage.
For their two power plays that followed, though, they spent more time unsuccessfully trying to enter the zone and retrieve puck possession. While much depends on the flow of the game at that particular moment, the Capitals simply can’t hope to take advantage if Boston’s penalty killers are beating them to the loose pucks as they try to set up.
“The breakout, it’s very important for us,” Alex Ovechkin said. “If we have a good breakout, we have pretty good chance to stand up out there. On PP it’s all about, I think, your skills and luck and simple plays. If you’re gonna do something fancy and maybe try to jump too high, you’re not gonna do it. We just have to make simple plays, shots pucks and find the rebound out there.”
Ovechkin’s second point is well taken – the Capitals shouldn’t worry about being cute. They need movement to throw the penalty killers out of position and off their bearings, but making ill-advised cross-ice passes through the Bruins box formation to force a back-door play all but asks for the pass to be picked off and cleared deep into the Washington end.
After thwarting the penalty killers the attention turns to Thomas, the unpredictable goaltender who will do everything from make a textbook butterfly save to do a full barrel roll in net to keep a puck out. Thomas’s unusual style means the Capitals can’t be picky with the type of goals they do get.
“We gotta get more guys around the net and when we do take that shot, we’ve got to collapse on it,” Troy Brouwer said earlier in the series. “We’ve got to try to get rebounds. He’s an unorthodox goalie and sometimes he can lose his angle and that’s when we have to get more guys, more pucks to the net, and that’s when we have to make sure guys are collapsing down and creating more havoc in front.”