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Capitals adding new wrinkles to power play

(AP Photo/Nick Wass)
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CALGARY—It’d be tempting to leave the Washington Capitals’ power play as is. It’s been statistically the league’s most effective for three straight seasons, and through the first four games of this season, there’s no reason to believe that trend will change. The power play has scored on three of its last five chances.

But Washington has a plan to make the power play even more lethal by adding new wrinkles to it, specifically movement. The 1-3-1 setup featuring John Carlson up top, Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom spread left to right in the middle and Marcus Johansson working the goal line and willing to go to the front of the net has been largely static, but that could change soon.

“If you get standing still, you get easier to cover for a penalty kill,” Capitals Coach Barry Trotz said. “Everything is straight-lined. When you have to start looking around and finding people, that second of indecision, our players will make that play. So we’re trying to create a little more movement on our power play.

“We keep some of the foundational setup of it because it’s been so good for the last couple years. … Coaches are pretty smart in this league that they will figure it out and they will make adjustments, so you’ve always got to do the next best thing. What’s the counter to their counter? It’s a cat-and-mouse game all of the time.”

As good as the power play has been during the regular season, scoring on 25.3 percent of its opportunities last season, it also has a history of flat-lining in the playoffs. Some of that comes from there typically being fewer penalties called in the postseason and teams tightening up on defense, but penalty-kill units have also caught on.

In 14 playoff games last season, the Capitals scored three times on 28 power-play chances. In a seven-game series against the Rangers in the 2013 playoffs, before Trotz’s arrival, Washington had 16 power plays and scored just three times. They were 7 of 39 in 14 playoff games in 2012. In the 2010 Eastern Conference quarterfinals, the Montreal Canadiens were able to advance past the Capitals by holding the power play to one goal in 33 opportunities.

“We’ve missed on some, and we didn’t adjust as quickly, so we’re getting ahead of the game a little bit,” Trotz said.

“The teams are doing exactly as we do,” Backstrom said. “We’re watching videos and they’re trying to come up with solutions. I think it’s important that as a power play, you keep developing and keep getting better on it because that day when you’re satisfied with things, then you’re in big trouble.”

Though the formation of Washington’s power play didn’t change, the personnel did with the offseason addition of Oshie, who replaced Troy Brouwer as the player in the slot (or the diamond in Capitals lingo). Backstrom said Saturday that if you’re comparing Oshie to Brouwer, Oshie appears more comfortable with the puck. He’s scored on two straight games on the power play after he scored just three power-play goals last season.

Trotz said there’s been discussion of creating a third power-play unit in early November, which would have a different look. Trotz said the plan is to “fiddle with it a little bit” for the next few weeks before unleashing it during a game.

The power play isn’t broken, so “it’s not going to be like everybody is flying all over the ice and reinventing the wheel,” Carlson said. But occasionally adding more movement would be effective in getting penalty killers out of position, and a Capitals power-play unit with a different look than they have employed for years could catch some opposing teams off guard.

Center Jay Beagle, a staple of Washington’s penalty kill, said those are the power plays that are the most challenging to defend.

“It’s a lot harder to read when they have different looks and they change up their positions and stuff,” Beagle said. “It’s just tougher to scout them when there’s a lot of looks.”

Here is the projected lineup for tonight’s game against Calgary:


Alex Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov-T.J. Oshie

Marcus Johansson-Nicklas Backstrom-Justin Williams

Jason Chimera-Jay Beagle-Tom Wilson

Brooks Laich-Chandler Stephenson-Andre Burakovsky


Brooks Orpik-John Carlson

Karl Alzner-Matt Niskanen

Taylor Chorney-Dmitry Orlov


Braden Holtby

Philipp Grubauer


Michael Latta

Stanislav Galiev

Nate Schmidt