The Capitals Power Play is Feeling the Pressure

Posted October 16, 2016

(Caps Outsider)

Over the past several seasons, fans of the Washington Capitals have become accustomed to watching their franchise player, Alex Ovechkin, slam home one-timers from his office on the man advantage. Frequently, this outcome is preceded by a Nicklas Backstrom pass that threads the needle across the slot. A quick pass via John Carlson from the point is also a frequent precursor to a goal. This has resulted in the Capitals owning one of the top power play units in the NHL year after year.

Through a small sample size of two games to open this season, there hasn’t been any of that. In fact, the Capitals’ power play has manifested as a shell of its former self. The man advantage has been plagued by sloppiness and the inability to finish when scoring chances have presented themselves.

“We have the skill, and we know each other well,” Ovechkin told reporters following their 2-1 victory over the New York Islanders on Saturday night. “Tried to play, maybe, more casual than we used to play. We have to figure it out and play better, obviously.”

The captain is right. The Capitals are playing a little bit too loose and thus don’t have the razor sharp focus needed. To that point, they have faced two penalty killing units that ranked in the top-five of the NHL last season. However, something that is a bit more obvious is being displayed by the opponents that is magnifying the struggles.

When the Capitals power play is typically “on,” they seem to have all day to dissect the defense. This is how Ovechkin somehow finds himself wide open again and again. However, Washington is now faced with something they aren’t used to seeing when up a man: pressure.

The Capitals power-play runs through Nicklas Backstrom, but the unit as a whole has been feeling the pressure so far this season. (Caps Outsider)

To my eye, opposing penalty killers appear to be attacking whoever has the puck more aggressively than before, forcing much quicker decision making. Such aggressiveness, for example, isn’t giving Backstrom the time and space to sauce a pass right into Ovechkin’s wheelhouse.

The Capitals have some of the most creative players in the National Hockey League on both power play units. The problem hasn’t been actually getting into the zone, either. Setting up in the usual 1-3-1 has been easy, but not much after that has been. Both Pittsburgh and New York have simply not allowed Washington’s play-makers enough time to carve them up.

The solution to this seems simple; move the puck quicker. The Capitals have in fact done well at this, and they don’t appear to be panicking or forcing anything. This is where the “more casual” than usual aspect comes into play. Passes aren’t hitting tape, and potential shots are bouncing over sticks. Holes are being opened up by the increased defensive pressure, but the plays being made have been noticeably less precise than usual as a result.

To be fair, the season is just two games old, and it is not realistic to expect any team to be in mid-season form yet. The Capitals will likely to do what they’ve always done, adjust to what their opponent gives them and let their stars do what they do best.

Despite the 0-for-8 start on the power play, there is no reason for concern just yet. Confidence prevailed in post-game interviews on Saturday night. The Capitals’ talent level alone makes it nearly impossible that this early season slump turns into a long-term issue. It shouldn’t take long for the pucks to start hitting the tape and likewise, for the pucks to start finding the back of the net on the power play.