Caps’ power play ‘getting comfortable’ amid roster shuffling

Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson

The Capitals’ season has been a moving train, one with lots of passengers hopping on and off in between stations. Washington has been forced to reshuffle its lineup constantly this season due to injuries and nowhere has that been more evident than the power play.

On Jan. 5, the Capitals activated both Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson from Injured Reserve. They each made triumphant season debuts in a 6-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. Head coach Peter Laviolette inserted them both onto the power-play units and the Capitals scored two goals with the man advantage that night.

In the 11 games since, however, adapting to the lineup changes has proven more of a challenge. Washington has since gone just 3-for-29 on power-play chances. Backstrom and Wilson hopped on that moving train and the locomotive, one that had been powering forward at full speed, needed time to adjust to accommodate its new passengers.

“It’s something you work on all the time,” Laviolette said Thursday of the power play. “You work on it [in the film room], work on it on the ice. I think the personnel [are] just getting comfortable with each other again but we gotta work to generate more. Just like we do 5-on-5, work to get to the interior, work to get quality chances and so it’s something that we’re constantly talking about.”

Just as Wilson started to look more comfortable — scoring his first power-play goal of the season Jan. 19 — he suffered a lower-body injury two games later blocking a shot in last week’s contest against the Colorado Avalanche. The Capitals have ruled him out through the All-Star Break, which begins following their road matchup with the Blue Jackets on Tuesday.


They’ve also gone this entire month without the services of defenseman John Carlson, who plays a vital role as the point man on the top power-play unit often tasked with serving up the passes for Alex Ovechkin’s one-timers. Also missing time this month: T.J. Oshie, whose wife gave birth to their fourth child, and Backstrom, who dealt with a non-COVID illness.

“It’s a big part of it,” Laviolette said of missing Carlson. “You got a right-hand shot at the top, and so that’s a big part of it. I think guys, again, coming in and out of the lineup, and even short-term [injuries have an effect] so everybody deals with that. So, we’ve got to continue to try and put that together. Power play and penalty kill can absolutely make a difference in a game.”

With a power-play goal in each of their last two games, the Capitals have started to show some signs of progress. The latest tally was scored off the stick of Backstrom, his first power-play goal in nearly a year and his first goal of any kind in 10 months and three days.

Luckily for Washington, the All-Star Break comes at a good time. Wilson will have 10 days to recover and the Capitals will get the chance to regroup before embarking on the final 29 games of their regular-season schedule. If they find a way to jumpstart the power play, that train will have plenty of fuel to extend its journey deep into April and May.