Capitals

A schedule break gives Caps a chance to reset the power play

Capitals

The highlights of the Capitals' power play in the month of December were Alex Ovechkin's record-tying goal and his record-setting goal. That's it. No, literally, that was it. Washington scored only two power play goals in the entire month of December and those were it.

For the month, the Caps went 2-for-28 on the power play, a rate of 7.1%. That's the second-worst in the NHL during that month. The team scored only twice and Ovechkin scored both goals. You have to go all the way back to Nov. 28 to find the last time someone not named Ovechkin scored on the power play, that was Dmitry Orlov on Nov. 28. You have to go back even farther to Nov. 14 for the last time a forward not named Ovechkin scored on the power play, which was Tom Wilson.

Clearly, this team needs a reset and, thanks to the schedule, they have an opportunity to do just that.

Washington was originally scheduled to play the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday, but that game was postponed. That gives them four days between their game Sunday and their next game on Friday in St. Louis. Next week also offers the team four days between their game on Monday, Jan. 10 against the Boston Bruins and their trip to Long Island on Saturday, Jan. 15.

"We've got time to work on things and go over things, just parts of systems as well as parts of compete and speed," head coach Peter Laviolette said.

 

The extra practice time the schedule gives the team allows them a chance to work on things that they normally do not get to over the course of a season. Working on the power play is among the priorities.

"I still think that we've got a lot of work to do," Laviolette said of the power play.

Considering where the Capitals sit in the standings, are the problems on the power play really a big deal? Despite having the 28th ranked power play for the season, to this point, it does not seem to have hurt them in the standings all that much.

Even if it has not cost the team in the standings, however, you have seen that it could. The Dec .19 game against the Los Angele Kings is a good example. Washington held a 2-0 lead in that game and had six power play opportunities which could have iced the game away. Washington went 0-for-6 and allowed three unanswered goals in a 3-2 loss.

So what's wrong with the power play?

Slow, predictable break-ins as well as slow, predictable puck movement have certainly hurt.

"We've been a little passive I think," Nicklas Backstrom said. "A little too much keeping it to the outside. We've got to attack it a little bit more I think and make sure we get those secondary too. All the goals aren't going to be pretty. You've got to do those rebounds and stuff too. It's an ongoing conversation."

The biggest issue, however, has been players missing, most notably Backstrom himself. Backstrom is the quarterback of the power play on the half-wall and he has played a grand total of three games this season. And still, he has an assist in each of those games including two on the power play.

"Guys are just at different levels of their hands and the feel of the game, their conditioning, the pace, the endurance of a shift, the tempo of a shift, the battle level, the compete," Laviolette said. "There's a lot that goes into winning a hockey game and we just have a lot of guys, we're at different levels right now and we've got to get everybody up to a level where, hopefully, if we can just stay clear of things, hopefully we can do that. We can get everybody to get to a point where we feel good about the pace and the battling."

It is unfortunate that both Backstrom and T.J. Oshie, also a regular on the top power play unit, both remain sick with a non-COVID illness and did not practice Tuesday. The break allows them more time to recover, however, and, hopefully, a chance to build some much-needed chemistry between a top unit that has played very little time together this season.

"It's just patience, I think," Backstrom said of the power play. "I know we haven't been as good at it as in previous years, but that's hockey. That's sports. You've just got to work through it."