On paper, it looked no different than so many of his power play goals – hissing from the left faceoff circle, aimed into an unreachable spot, crushed past a helpless goaltender. But Ovechkin released in stride and on the rush, using defenseman Dan Boyle to screen Henrik Lundqvist. And in this way, Ovechkin’s goal – which held up as the series opener’s only score until late in the third period — was indicative of what little Washington’s man-advantage unit has produced during the postseason.
“If you call that a chance, that was a chance,” Backstrom said. “If you call that a chance, that’s all him to score from there.”
The Capitals’ power play hasn’t yet scored an in-zone goal, hitting the net three times in 15 chances – a small sample size, but a respectable 20 percent conversation rate – across eight games. They knew their opportunities would be limited in the playoffs, when whistles get swallowed and physicality reigns, and have at times generated decent looks when setting up their 1-3-1 scheme.
“It’s just situation and our coaching staff do a great job to show us exactly what they’re going to do and they give us option,” Ovechkin said. “We skill enough to do and read the situation out there. If they’re going to play one way, we have to do different thing. If they going to do different thing, we have to do different thing. Same in the zone. Our PP was No. 1 in the league and we knew exactly what we have to do to get success.”
But between Ovechkin converting against the Rangers, defenseman John Carlson in Game 6 against the Islanders and center Nicklas Backstrom in Game 2, all three of the Capitals’ strikes have come on the rush.
“Yeah, we’ve only scored off the rush in the playoffs so far, and we’re more of an in-zone possession type of PP,” said forward Troy Brouwer, the slot man on the top unit. “I thought that even though we haven’t scored in the zone yet, we’ve done a good job of creating opportunities, creating momentum for our team. But I feel like we’ve got more to give.”
The penalty kill, on the other hand, enters Saturday afternoon’s Game 2 riding a blistering streak, having snuffed 16 of 16 postseason power plays. Defenseman Karl Alzner treated the success like a no-hitter in baseball, declining to reveal anything beyond blocking shots and dumping pucks.
After Game 1, Trotz was more expansive.
“A lot of commitment, a lot of detail and good goaltending when all fails,” he said. “You look at our numbers during the year, we had a couple games where I would say it was probably four games where we gave up three goals, and we weren’t really that bad, but it ended up in the net sometimes. As the season went on, I thought our numbers were better and better and it didn’t reflect.
“You fall off the cliff and those numbers real early, it’s hard to climb to the numbers you want. I’d say if you knocked off the first 40 games, we’re at a pretty high clip I’d say. We were at least in the top 10 killing penalties that way.”
Very well, then. We’ll bite. From their 41st game in the regular season on Jan. 8 until the finale, according to war-on-ice.com, the Capitals ranked 13th in the NHL by allowing 5.8 goals per 60 shorthanded minutes, down from 7.5 during the first 40 games, which ranked 22nd . They also peeled off separate stretches of 12 for 12, 14 for 14 and, as the seeding chase warmed in late-March, 11 for 11.
When Trotz first arrived in Washington, improving the penalty kill took far greater precedence than adjusting the power play, which already graded as the NHL’s best under former coach Adam Oates. And even now, with the shorthanded group suffocating opponents during these playoffs and the power play unit looking for its in-zone groove, Trotz has resisted the temptation to tweak. After all, the Capitals still finished the regular season No. 1 in the league. What’s a little postseason blip, especially with three goals coming in unconventional ways?
“We’ve made a couple mistakes, which has resulted in pucks going back the other way and having to break out, but we’re confident in our group and there’s a reason why we’ve been at the top of the league the last couple seasons in our PP,” Brouwer said. “Our personnel hasn’t changed much on our PP, and we’re doing a good job. I think we can rally behind it, and our PP is going to push us through some games here.”