After going for 0-for-8 in Tuesday night’s 5-2 loss to the Florida Panthers, the Capitals’ power play resumed some semblance of order at practice on Wednesday, with Alex Ovechkin assuming his role as puck crusher.
Forced to watch Tuesday night’s loss while serving a one-game suspension for missing Sunday’s NHL All-Star Game, Ovechkin took up his spot in the left faceoff circle on a top power-play unit with Nicklas Backstrom working the half wall, Evgeny Kuznetsov on the goal line, T.J. Oshie in the slot, and John Carlson at center point.
“We lost a couple guys,” Ovechkin said of himself and Marcus Johansson (upper body injury), “and Oshie was kind of playing out of position and it’s a hard position to be in. I don’t know if he ever played that. Tomorrow is going to be a much better day against the Islanders.”
The Caps certainly hope so. In their only two games without Ovechkin in the lineup this season they are 0-2, have been outscored 10-2 and have gone 0-for-12 on the power play, although it’s worth noting Backstrom’s goal Tuesday night came one second after a Caps power play expired.
Ovechkin leads the Caps with 28 goals, two behind NHL leader Patrick Kane, and 11 power-play goals, three behind Kane. At his current pace, Ovechkin would finish with 49 goals and 19 power play goals, slightly below his totals last season of 53 goals and 25 power-play tallies.
The Caps have used defensemen John Carlson and Matt Niskanen as Ovechkin’s puck-feeding machines, with varying degrees of success. Each has 10 power-play assists this season. On Wednesday Niskanen practiced with the Caps’ second power-play unit with Andre Burakovsky on the half wall, Jason Chimera on the goal line, Justin Williams in the slot and Stan Galiev in Ovechkin’s spot in the left circle.
“They’re interchangeable,” Caps coach Barry Trotz said of Carlson and Niskanen. “Each delivers the puck a little different. They put it in different spots for Ovi.
“The puck slides differently between one guy and the other. Mike Green (16 power-play assists last season) was the best. He had a tight spin on that pass and it was right in (Ovechkin’s) wheelhouse. Some guys have the gift.”
The Capitals are hoping their decision to keep Ovechkin out of the All-Star Game will pay big dividends down the stretch. The Caps will play 34 games in the final 69 days of the regular season. Ovechkin has not played a game since last Wednesday night against the Flyers.
“I know it has,” Trotz said when asked if Ovechkin has benefitted from the extra rest. “He’s fresh. We’ll see if he’s totally healthy, but he’ll play tomorrow. He’s zooming around and he’s missing everybody. When you don’t play you feel like an outsider. He’s in the in group again and he’ll be good.”
Ovechkin said players prefer games over practices anyway.
“It’s a good thing,” he said. “When you play the game that’s more interesting than practicing. Of course it’s going to be hard, but you train in the summer to get ready for this stretch.”