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Capitals’ power play starting to find its groove

The Washington Capitals celebrate their victory over the Buffalo Sabres. Washington scored twice on the power play. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

BUFFALO — The puck was bouncing, so defenseman John Carlson skated toward it. He considered passing it, but quickly decided against that, pulling his stick back and firing. Upon seeing the vulcanized rubber get past Sabres goaltender Robin Lehner, Carlson lifted both arms and his stick, looking part relieved and part victorious.

Carlson has taken the second most shots on the power play, but before Friday night, he was in a frustrating goal drought. With that now behind him, perhaps a man-advantage unit that’s recently found a more consistent scoring touch will get even more potent.

“It felt pretty good,” Carlson said. “Hopefully, that’s the jump I needed.”

The Capitals scored two power-play goals in a 4-1 win against the Sabres on Friday night, and it marked the unit’s first multi-goal game since Nov. 16, which was 10 games ago. But after a sluggish start to the season, Washington’s power play has played a key role in the Capitals ability to bank points.

Against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday, a power-play goal by Nicklas Backstrom tied the game and although Washington lost in a shootout, it at least got a point out of the contest. In the following game on Monday, Marcus Johansson’s power-play goal was the equalizer against the Sabres, and the Capitals went on to win in overtime.

On Friday night, Washington’s first power-play goal gave the team a 2-0 lead, and then Carlson’s power-play tally extinguished a Buffalo push in the third period, as the Sabres had scored to cut the deficit to one before the Capitals’ man-advantage restored some cushion.

“You could just see that once we scored that goal, their bench sort of just deflated again,” Coach Barry Trotz said.

What’s impressive is that the power play has started to hit its stride while missing some key pieces; in the seven games T.J. Oshie, was out, the man-advantage scored five goals. The Capitals have had Oshie back on the top unit for the past two games, but they’ve been without defenseman Matt Niskanen, who typically quarterbacks the second unit, since he left Wednesday’s game against Boston with an upper-body injury. The second unit scored the game-winning goal on Friday night thanks to a slick backhand feed from Evgeny Kuznetsov to rookie Jakub Vrana.

Jakub Vrana nets his first as Capitals get one for the road in Buffalo

The Capitals’ power play is ranked 17th in the league with a 16.7 scoring percentage — not where the team wants it, but steadily improving. Eight different players have power-play goals this season, and Alex Ovechkin hasn’t netted one in seven games.

“I think it’s nice to see them go in a bunch of different ways, too,” Carlson said. “I think a tendency when Ovi scores five or six times in a row, it throws everything off because teams overly playing things differently. It’s not necessarily a negative, it’s just that the more we spread it out, then the more teams really second-guess themselves. It opens a lot more stuff up for us.”