For the better part of 10 years, Mike Green and Alex Ovechkin formed one of the most dynamic power-play duos in the NHL, with Green deftly feeding pucks into Ovechkin’s powerful wheelhouse for blinding one-timers.
With Green now in Detroit running the Red Wings’ power play, John Carlson and Matt Niskanen will be asked to hands that feed Ovechkin.
“They were really good at it,” said Niskanen, whose power play minutes went from 242 in Pittsburgh in 2013-14 to just 87 with the Capitals last season. “They played together a long time and had that chemistry. That’s something that developed.
“Obviously, having a lot of skill helps. Hopefully, with some more reps I can get better at that skill, feeding Ovi in the sweet spot. There are other aspects of the power play that I’ll get to a higher level sooner, but I’ll take the reps as they come and try to get better at it.”
Green led all Caps defensemen in power-play time last season with 198 minutes. Carlson was right behind him with 142 minutes and the two helped the Caps finish with the NHL’s No. 1 power play at 25.3 percent. Ovechkin also finished with a league-high 25 power-play goals.
Carlson split time last season between the No. 1 and No. 2 power-play units and said with the additions of T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams the Caps should have more options than just Ovechkin blasting away from the left faceoff circle.
“I know that situation (with Green and Ovechkin) was great, but I’ve got to go out there and make sure I’m doing whatever I can. We have a lot of great shooters and great puck movers so I don’t take anything for granted.”
Carlson said that while Green and Ovechkin shared a special chemistry, there is more to setting up Ovechkin than simply getting the puck on his stick.
“You can’t just look at him and pass it to him and he’s going to score every time,” Carlson said. “There’s other stuff that goes on that dictates the play. Where do I get the puck from? Where is their forward? Is he on him? Is he shading toward me? Is he in my shot lane?
“At the end of the day, you let your mind react. You need to know the good times to pass it to him, the times to fake. In some situations you need to get it over there as quickly as possible. Sometimes he’s thinking he’s going down (low to the net), but their defender could be coming up and he picks it off and I’m in no man’s land.
“We can talk about it all we want, but it’s about reading and reacting.”
Since 17 of Green’s 45 points last season came on the man-advantage, there will also be even-strength points that need to be picked up on the Caps’ blue line.
Niskanen, who saw his point totals drop from 46 with the Penguins to 31 with the Caps, said he’ll put a little pressure on himself to produce more offense this season.
“Greener had a really good year last year,” Niskanen said. “He produced a lot and he played a lot on that first power play for the majority of the year. That’s something as a group we’re going to have to pick up that slack. I don’t think me or John Carlson are going to get (his 45) points. But as a group, getting more involved in the offense, I think you should see some of our numbers go up.”
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