The Washington Capitals struggled on the power play this past season, scoring merely 46 goals after 79 and 85 the previous two years. Power-play woes are not a new problem for this team, though. Washington went 1-for-33 against Montreal in a seven-game defeat two years ago, and its awkwardness on the man advantage against Tampa Bay resulted in a second-round sweep this postseason.
The Capitals thought they were addressing some of the unit's shortcomings at the trade deadline when they acquired right-handed shooting offensive defenseman Dennis Wideman from Florida for a minor-league forward and a third-round pick in the 2011 draft. Wideman had points on three of the six power-play goals the team scored during his 14 games (before a leg hematoma sidelined him for the season), and the Caps’ power playconverted scoring chances at a slightly higher rate than before they acquired him.
Having Wideman for a full season should help boost the power play, but other players will need to step up as well. Alex Ovechkin managed just seven goals and 24 points despite averaging 4:28 a game of power-play ice time, first among Washington skaters. Nicklas Backstrom (four power-play goals) and Brooks Laich (four power-play goals) also need to do more to create chances in front that helped them shine a year ago with the man advantage.
The entire Capitals defense managed just seven power-play goals last year, and first-unit quarterback Mike Green accounted for five of them despite missing 33 games to injury. But the Caps' power play did better overall without Green, burying 15 percent of its scoring chances (18 for 124) and just 12 percent (17 for 142) with him on the ice.
Coach Bruce Boudreau has faced plenty of criticism for the unit's failures, but his system has produced power-play success as well. The Caps finished first in the league at 25.2 percent in 2009-10 and second during the 2008-9 season. Last season, a double whammy of fewer power-play opportunities and increased bad bounces made the unit look worse than it might be.
Troy Brouwer, acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks for a first-round pick, drew 19 minor penalties but got called for just nine. He also had seven power-play goals last year, more than any Washington skater except for Ovechkin and Mike Knuble.
The Capitals also added unrestricted free agents Joel Ward (five power-play points and 1:30 power-play minutes per game) and puck-moving blueliner Roman Hamrlik (15 power-play points and 2:33 power-play minutes per game). Both could help generate more shots and the team's shooting percentage, a below-average 10 percent, ought to rise back to the previous levels of 16 percent on the power play.
Increased opportunities with more shots converting at a higher rate should put Washington back into the top third of NHL power-play units.
With a track record of past achievement and enough dynamic talent to produce league-leading results again, Washington's power play shouldn't be written off as a lost cause going into next season. The Caps do have to find a way to be more consistently productive with the man advantage, though, or they may see another postseason appearance cut short.