The unit went 3 for 4 against New Jersey on Sunday but was 0 for 2 on Tuesday night in a loss to Pittsburgh. Capitals Coach Peter Laviolette chalked up the poor extra-man performance as more of an indictment of the team’s five-on-five problems, which bled over into the power play.
“There are going to be times in the year that it struggles, and that is fine. It’s just about creating that consistency,” Capitals assistant coach Blaine Forsythe said. “The thing I like about it most is that when we’ve had a game where we’ve felt like we’ve struggled, our response has been better next game versus last year when we kind of went into a spiral and never got out of it, but I think the confidence is back.”
Forsythe has long been in charge of Washington’s power play, and he’s content with what he sees. The group sits near the top of the NHL again, ranked fifth going into Wednesday’s games.
Washington, which faces Pittsburgh again Thursday night, has 15 power-play goals. T.J. Oshie leads the pack with four, including two in Sunday’s win over the Devils. Backstrom and John Carlson have three, Alex Ovechkin has two, and Tom Wilson, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Richard Panik all have one.
Forsythe said Washington's power play had struggled in the past because the units were too slow and puck movement needed to be more aggressive.
This season, Forsythe worked with each player, sorting through their tendencies on the ice to make the unit more effective. He focused on positioning and movement. He looked at how they carried the puck and their stick position.
“Positioning has been the biggest thing, just where guys were on the ice, even last year to now, the areas of the ice they are getting to versus where they weren’t,” Forsythe said.
Getting to this point has not been easy. Multiple players, including Ovechkin, missed games because of injuries and the NHL’s coronavirus protocols. Washington has frequently been forced to shuffle the unit but still has managed to get results.
The Capitals went 5 for 9 on the power play when Ovechkin, Dmitry Orlov and Kuznetsov were out of the lineup from Jan. 19 to Jan. 29. Carlson shifted over to Ovechkin’s spot on the left circle, and it opened up the ice for other players.
“When we were missing Ovi, everything kind of changed,” Forsythe said. “With John coming over there … I loved how that operated. The coverage was pretty normal, they weren’t overplaying anybody, and with that said we were scoring some goals. I think it is just cyclical.”
Ovechkin and his signature one-time snipe have returned to the lineup, and the roster is healthy. Jakub Vrana moved to the first unit, and Kuznetsov shifted to the second.
Newcomer Justin Schultz is also on the second unit, which has changed the group’s mentality. His heavy wrister creates more deflections in front. That’s a change from Carlson, who is more stationary at the point but adds another layer with his one-timer.
“He’s great. I love him on the power play,” Forsythe said of Schultz.
Kuznetsov’s move to the second unit came after he missed eight games, but Forsythe said it was an attempt to even out the units. Kuznetsov was on the first unit because of a simple concept — get all of Washington’s best players on the ice together.
With Backstrom and Kuznetsov on the same unit, Kuznetsov shifted out of his natural position on the power play — the spot near the boards atop the faceoff circle (known as the “half wall”). Forsythe believes Kuznetsov is more comfortable working on the half wall with the second unit. He is positioned better and is able to have the puck on his stick and help cycle it more.
“Guys have taken it on and made it their own and at the same time brought back that pride to it,” Forsythe said.
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