ARLINGTON, Va. -- The Capitals were given every opportunity to win on Wednesday against the Philadelphia Flyers, but the power play failed them. The 3-2 loss was an exclamation point to what has been a troubling trend for Washington since the start of December: the vaunted power play that has for so long dominated the league just has not been good enough.
Washington had three opportunities in the second period and an additional two in the third, but went 0-for-5 on the night in what was a one-goal loss. Not only did the power play not produce, but the Caps gave up a shorthanded breakaway goal to Kevin Hayes that proved to be the game-winner.
“I think when you have a good power play, you've got a target on your back,” said Tom Wilson who plays on the second unit. “Teams have an emphasis on studying the video and we're going to have to work through it. At the end of the day, we've had some good chances throughout the game, we aren't getting results.”
But it was not just one bad game. This has been an issue for some time now.
Since Dec. 1, Washington ranks 30th in the NHL on the power play with 13.7-percent. That is over the course of 17 games, not at all a small sample size.
A unit that boasts John Carlson, Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov has got to be better and the team knows it.
“It's generally your top players out there so someone has to step up and we've got to get the job done,” Wilson said. “It's as simple as that.”
On Friday, Reirden made a tweak to the personnel in practice putting Jakub Vrana on the top unit and moving Evgeny Kuznetsov down.
"Sometimes when you struggle, like we have the last couple games, I feel like sometimes you just need to shake it up a little bit,” Backstrom said. “We always had two good units and to be able to split it up, I think it just gives other teams -- it's going to be harder for them to defend. We want to be better on the power play, and we need to be better. Shake things up and see where we're at."
“It's just maybe like coach changes the lines sometimes if you're not getting things done 5-on-5,” Wilson said. “I don't think it's much different than that.”
Vrana’s power play time this season has been limited to just 1:33 per game as he plays on an under-utilized second unit. As a result, he has no power play goals at all this season. But Vrana has proven himself to be a lethal scorer with 19 even-strength goals. That is two more than Ovechkin has and ranks tied for third in the NHL.
“I've been watching them for almost three years now and I’ve learned a lot,” Vrana said of the top unit. “It is a good opportunity and I want to take advantage of every chance I got and just going to make sure you are prepared and ready to go out there and do your best."
But will Vrana’s addition to the power play really be the change the team needs?
Vrana is a lethal scorer to be sure, but if he plays in Kuznetsov’s spot, he may not get much opportunity to actually put pucks on the net. Kuznetsov plays the corner on the power play and is often positioned on or below the goal line, his primary responsibility being to distribute the puck mainly to either Backstrom on the half wall or Oshie in the slot. Unless the power play setup is tweaked as well as the lineup, Vrana may not find himself in a position where he can have as great an impact as it is hoped.
“I'm playing low so I'm going to make sure I'm winning the battles around the net and give it to Backy's hands,” Vrana said. “I am going to be out there and use my skills and try to create some offense and get us going."
But the move is not just about hoping Vrana can fix the top unit, it is also about being able to throw two different power play units out on the ice. Washington has leaned heavily on its top unit and Reirden expects that in part may be the problem.
“For us, we want to spread some of the talent out and go with a little bit of a shorter shift mentality where we can win some more puck battles because right now we're not winning enough puck battles. We’ve gotten out-worked in some areas. I think that by having a fresher group out there then I think that our success level for winning puck battles and executing better will improve.”
Should that not work, Reirden made it clear he had plenty of other options in terms of personnel he could throw out on the ice.
“We feel confident in a number of different guys and different spots,” he said. “We feel just at this point this is the right thing to do. Looking forward to watching it Saturday night.”
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