There is usually less than a minute left on a given Capitals power play when the second unit hops over the boards and onto the ice.
They do so with heightened urgency, knowing they’ll have time to manufacture no more than a few chances in the offensive zone. It often looks like this group — Andre Burakovsky, Lars Eller, Brett Connolly, Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen — picks up mop-up duty after the first unit cannot score a goal. But in January, the Capitals’ second power-play unit has been an instrumental part of the team’s offense.
Overall, the power play has scored nine times in the past 10 games. Four of those goals, including a second-period pinch-in from Burakovsky in a 5-3 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday, have been scored by the second group. The Capitals will look to carry this special teams success (they have also not given up a power-play goal in three games) into a matchup with the Pittsburgh Penguins inside PPG Paints Arena at 7 p.m. on Friday.
“I think we only get 30, 40 seconds, so I think our mind-set when we go over there I think we’re going to try to get a chance,” Connolly said after the Capitals practiced Thursday. “We were actually getting some chances off the rush, which is good.”
“The top unit is going to take up a lot of the time just because they’re really good at controlling the puck in the other end and they’re holding onto it and making plays,” he continued. “We’ll get 30 seconds, so we’re just trying to bear down and try to get a chance. One good, quality chance every time we’re out there. It’s been working so far.”
The Burakovsky goal came with Alex Ovechkin still on the ice, so it wasn’t the complete second unit, even if Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie and John Carlson were on the bench. Ovechkin will often stick on the ice a bit longer than the rest of the first power-play unit, as he is the team’s biggest threat with his slap shot from the left faceoff circle. Ovechkin is leading the NHL with 30 goals and nine have come on the power play.
Capitals Coach Barry Trotz said it is still the “second unit” when Ovechkin is on the ice, but that Ovechkin’s presence certainly makes it a more dangerous one. Opposing penalty kills shift to Ovechkin’s side of the ice to limit his touches, and that opens up space for the other four players on either the first or second unit. In the third period against the Flyers, Oshie was given space in the middle of the zone and whacked in a power-play goal for the first group. On Wednesday, Oshie noted that the second group’s recent success makes it so teams need to game plan for two units instead of one.
“Instead of the pre-scout focusing just on one line the whole time, like we know it is here when we’re scouting other teams, you have two lines you have to worry about,” Oshie said. “You have different breakouts you have to worry about from two different units, and different personnel, whether (Ovechkin) stays or not. So it’s different personnel and it makes it harder and more difficult to get those reads.”
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