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Capitals' normally dangerous power play falls silent to start the season

Capitals' normally dangerous power play falls silent to start the season

Amid the jubilation over Saturday’s home opening win against the New York Islanders, there was one stat that marred the Capitals' performance: 0-for-5.

Washington was given five opportunities on the man advantage on Saturday and failed to strike in any of them, allowing the Islanders to stay in the game.

“They've had some good looks,” head coach Barry Trotz said of his power play unit following the game. “I mean, all around the net they've had some unfortunate luck. Pucks are bouncing right now.”

This early in the season, it may be unfair to label any particular statistic as “concerning.” Considering the Caps return most of the same personnel on the power play unit, however, it is a bit surprising to see the team struggle with the man advantage.

RELATED: Capitals find the Winnik formula Saturday night

In the past four seasons, the Caps have led the league twice and finished no worse than fifth in power play percentage. In fact, in the past four seasons combined, the Capitals' success on the power play is 24.1 percent which leads the NHL by a wide margin. The Pittsburgh Penguins have had the second most effective power play at 21.0 percent.

“They're capable of getting three one night and we'll be back on track,” Trotz said. “I'm not worried about them. The power play's in good hands with the personnel that we have on both groups and the people handling it. They'll get going.”

When asked about their early struggles, the key cog of the power play, Alex Ovechkin, said, “Obviously we have skill and we know each other well. Sometimes it just didn't work out. Maybe [we] play more casual than how we used to play. We have to figure [it] out and play better obviously.”

But there may be a silver lining to the team’s lack of power play success as the team's effectiveness with the man advantage has at times masked their weaknesses on offense.

In the 2012-13 season, the Capitals led the NHL in power play percentage with a whopping 26.8 percentage. Ovechkin led the NHL in goals with 32 (in a 47-game lockout-shortened season). Of those 32, however, exactly half of them came on the power play.

The team was completely over reliant on the power play, but in the playoffs power plays are harder to come by and the opponents tend to be among the stronger teams in terms of the penalty kill.

In that 2012-13 season, the Capitals would go on to lose to the New York Rangers in the first round of the playoffs. Ovechkin managed only two points, a goal and an assist, both of which came on the power play. In seven games, Ovechkin did not tally a single even-strength point.

Adding scoring depth was a major focus for the Capitals in the offseason. If they can’t score on the power play, than they are about to find out just how much scoring depth they actually have.

“We're finding ways to win without the power play,” Trotz said. “We wanted to improve our 5-on-5 scoring so we're going to have to do it and we're going to have to do it through depth and I think we're capable of doing that.”

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Capitals are sticking with Chandler Stephenson on the top line… for now

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Capitals are sticking with Chandler Stephenson on the top line… for now

With Tom Wilson still serving a 20-game suspension, Washington Capitals head coach Todd Reirden has the difficult task of finding a wing to complement his top line of Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. For the first four games of the season, that player was Brett Connolly.

On Saturday, however, he changed things up and went with Chandler Stephenson instead.

Just 18 seconds into the game, Stephenson made his head coach look very smart as he finished off a 2-on-1 with Kuznetsov to score his first goal of the season.

“Obviously, the start was great,” Reirden said after the game.

Stephenson is an incredibly fast skater and the extra speed seemed to add another dimension to that line that opponents had to contend with, and it led to both of the Caps’ goals on the night.

In addition to Stephenson’s goal, Ovechkin drew a tripping penalty in the second period, and Washington scored on the resulting power play.

“Those guys are a lot of fun to play with,” Stephenson said. “They just know where to be and can find each other. I've just got to get the puck to them and just go to the net with your stick on the ice, and they'll find you.”

The top line’s success was a matter of finding instant chemistry as Stephenson had very little time to adjust. The Caps were off on Friday following back-to-back games, and Reirden did not make the switch of putting Stephenson on the top until Saturday’s morning skate.

Putting a new top line together with little time to practice does not seem like an ideal scenario, but according to Kuznetsov, the level of familiarity between all the players made the adjustment quick and easy.

“It doesn't matter with who you play,” he said. “In this locker room, we can communicate with anybody. We don't have a first line, we don't have a fourth line. We try and roll all lines.”

Reirden seemed pleased with the new trio after the game saying, “They did a number of good things during the game as well, so they I thought accomplished a lot. I thought [Stephenson] brought the speed on the forecheck and was able to at least go after their defense a little bit and force some turnovers that Kuznetsov and [Ovechkin] were able to at least get some opportunities from. So I think that's important to have him in that situation.”

Reirden was happy enough with the top line’s performance to keep them together. The team is off Monday, but Stephenson remained on the top line during Sunday’s practice.

But so long as Wilson remains out, finding the right match for the top line will remain a work in progress.

Said Reirden, “We’ll continue to try to put together our four lines that give us the best chance.”

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NHL Power Rankings: Not every night is a big-time game for the Capitals

NHL Power Rankings: Not every night is a big-time game for the Capitals

There was a lot of excitement to start the season for the Caps. First, there was the home-opener and the banner raising against the Boston Bruins. Then there was a trip to Pittsburgh to take on the rival Penguins. After that, it was a Stanley Cup Final rematch against the Vegas Golden Knights.

And all of that was followed up with a trip to Newark.

CHECK OUT THIS WEEK’S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

With all due respect to New Jersey, given the slate the Caps faced to start the season, it was no real surprise to see the team struggle to get up for Thursday’s game against the Devils, a game in which the Caps were blown out 6-0. Of all the games Washington faced to start the season, the trip to New Jersey was definitely the least exciting.

But not every game is going to be a big rivalry matchup or a playoff rematch. With every team gunning for the Caps, they better make sure they can get themselves ready for the grind of an 82-game season that won’t always feature a big-time matchup.

A trip to Newark may not be flashy or exciting, but it still counts as two points.

The Caps dropped the game in New Jersey and lost a tight contest against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Where do they stand now after two straight losses?

FIND OUT HERE IN THIS WEEK'S NHL POWER RANKINGS

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