For the first four months of the season, the Capitals’ power play was far worse than anyone expected — and it showed on the scoreboard each night.
Through the first 45 games (the end of January), the Capitals had the league’s 29th-ranked power play with just a 15.2% conversion rate. Nearly every day, there were questions about what specifically was wrong with the team’s man-advantage and how it could be fixed.
Since February began, though, there’s been a noticeable uptick in the team’s play with the other team a man short. And, not coincidentally, their improved power-play units have come right when the team has gotten healthier and slowly spent more time with one another on the ice.
“We weren’t having the success that we were looking for,” coach Peter Laviolette said Monday. “I think you have to have some honesty about what you’re seeing. If the power play wasn’t producing anything, then you look at it, you address it and you give it another chance. If it’s not working again, then you maybe change it. If it is getting chances and not scoring goals, then you try and reinforce the positives of what you see out there.”
In the 15 games since Feb. 1, they’re scoring at a rate of 27.5% on the power play — a figure that ranks them fourth in the league in that time period. That has accounted for more than a 12-percent jump in production compared to the team's first 45 games.
“I think our urgency has been a little bit better,” center Nicklas Backstrom said. “We’re working harder, we’re working better together, we’re scoring a lot more too which helps. I think every time when you go on a roll for a little bit, you score a couple games in a row, it gives you confidence. From there you can work in your own tempo.”
Not only have Washington’s results on the scoreboard improved, but its process has looked better too.
Per 60 minutes on the power play from the beginning of the season through Jan. 31, they ranked 19th in the league in shot attempts (94.32), 18th in the league (54.84) in shots and 17th in shots allowed (11.39) according to Natural Stat Trick.
Since then, the shot attempts have remained nearly the same (95.83), but shots on net have improved up to 13th (57.64). The team’s shots allowed (9.72) has also improved and has risen to 8th in the league. Notably, their high-danger chances have risen from 31st (14.84) to 17th (21.53).
“With the group that’s now back and has been in place, even though there may have been a game or two early where it wasn’t on point, that to me is a time where you take it and you continue to work and look,” Laviolette said. “(Assistant coach) Blaine (Forsythe) did a really good job with just going to some areas that we needed to get better at, communicating with the players, working on it in practice and working on it in video, and then bringing it to the games.”
Naturally, the additions of Anthony Mantha and T.J. Oshie have helped, as has more ice time for Backstrom.
Put together, it’s made for a unit that is 7-of-18 (38.88%) in the first five games of March. The Capitals have scored multiple goals on the man-advantage in three of their last five games and have scored in 11 of their last 15 games.
“There’s just a lot of history with that group,” Laviolette said. “The other group’s looked really good too, they've moved the puck really well and they’ve generated. But certainly I think just getting players back on the ice based on what we went through at the beginning with regard to personnel not being here. There were a lot of parts moving around, just not finding the rhythm you want on the power play.”