The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Capitals’ power play in a slump

(Adam Hunger/USA Today Sports)
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With Alex Ovechkin’s empty-net goal in the last minute of the Washington Capitals’ 5-3 win against the Nashville Predators, a streak ended. A Predators player was in the box, so despite Nashville having its goaltender pulled, the goal counted as a power-play score, Washington’s first six games.

But the Capitals still don’t have a “real” power-play goal in six games. The man-advantage has kept its status as the league’s best with a scoring percentage of 24.4, but that won’t last if recent trends continue. The unit entered Tuesday night’s game in an 0-for-17 slump.

Before the empty-netter, the Capitals had just 1 minute 8 seconds of power-play time on two chances, as a Marcus Johansson high-sticking minor negated what would have been a full Washington power play in the second period. On the score sheet, that had the Capitals 0 for 2 on the power play to start the game, running their streak to 0 for 19.

There are significant variables to consider before panicking over the slump. The Capitals had eight power play chances against the Florida Panthers last Tuesday, but Ovechkin was suspended for the game for skipping the all-star game, so Washington struggling without his presence in the left faceoff circle is understandable.

The Capitals had also been missing Johansson, who typically plays on the first power play unit, and despite the scoreless power-play spell, Washington continued to win, getting goals at even strength instead. That could be good preparation for the postseason, when power play chances are fewer and penalty kills are better.

Capitals Coach Barry Trotz said personnel changes have been partially to blame, but are not the only excuse. With Johansson back in the lineup, the power play will get a boost.

“Just execution,” Trotz said before Sunday’s game against the Flyers. “I think some of it is execution, some of it is retrievals. One big emphasis when we’re going really good is we’re able to keep pucks alive after the initial hit or whatever, and we haven’t been able to do that. Our retrievals are probably down a little bit. When your retrievals are down, you’re going back and you’re trying to break out and set up all the time. …

“Marcus is very good on the power play, but so is [Evgeny] Kuznetsov and [Andre] Burakovsky and [Jason Chimera] does a good job in Marcus’s sort of spot. I don’t think that’s as big a deal. Maybe the one game with Ovi [missing] over there. Obviously he’s got the special shot over there. But other than that, the execution hasn’t been great, and therefore when you don’t execute you’re not going to have any success.”

Washington weathered a four-game power-play slump earlier this season and the man-advantage recovered to be ranked first in the league. To try to spark the power play on Sunday, Trotz moved Chimera into Johansson’s position on the top unit, which bumped Kuznetsov back to the second power play unit. But Washington’s first power play on Sunday saw turnovers and an icing.

“Sometimes we can be very stubborn and say, ‘Our power play will work against everybody,’ but we do make lots of adjustments,” Trotz said on Sunday. “If there’s a trend, then we better fix it before the playoffs because, to me, if we don’t fix it before the playoffs, you’re almost in a situation where it’s too late.”

Said defenseman Matt Niskanen: “We believe as long as we are getting zone time, we’re getting shots, we have some of the key elements of our power play, that results are going to come. Some of those areas have been lacking lately, so that’s what we’ll try to fix. I don’t think you get too caught up in the results. You focus on the process and things like your breakout, your zone entries, your recoveries, net presence, execution, all those things. If we concentrate on those things, the results will come.”

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