The Washington Capitals Power Play Has a Chance to Take Over the Series

Posted May 15, 2018

As the occupants of Amalie Arena spent most of Friday night in silence, the Washington Capitals’ explosive power play was busy setting the tone for game one of the Eastern Conference Finals and possibly beyond.

Alex Ovechkin was the first to strike on the man advantage with just seconds remaining in the first period, putting the Caps up 2-0. The captain’s crowd-stunner came directly after Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov had a game-tying goal waved off as the Lightning were called for too many men on the ice. On a later opportunity, Lars Eller buried a back-breaker to make the score 4-0.

The trend continued in game two on Sunday night, where the Caps went one-for-three on the man advantage.

Coming into the series, it was pretty well-known that one of the most important battles of the series would come on special teams. Specifically, it would pit Washington’s stellar power play against Tampa’s poor penalty kill, which was one of the worst units in the National Hockey League during the regular season – a trend that has continued throughout the playoffs.

Through 14 playoff games, the Capitals have hit on 32.6 percent of their power play opportunities, and have tallied a goal on the power play in 12 of those contests. In contrast, the Lightning have only killed off 71.0 percent of their opponents’ man-up chances.

The results weren’t promising, and quite frankly, neither was the process for the Lightning on either occasion. The Capitals were already down one of their most important pieces in Nicklas Backstrom, who missed his second and third consecutive games with a hand injury. In theory, this lack of a major playmaker would direct even more attention towards Ovechkin.

On the Great Eight’s power play goal in game one, he was given just a little bit too much space off of a set play.

Unfortunately for other teams, that’s all it takes. Ovechkin does not need much room at all to make you pay and this goal completely took out any wind from the sails for Tampa.

Eller’s tally was a little bit different, resulting almost completely due to a consistent lack of pressure on the puck by Tampa’s penalty killers.

The Lightning, set up in a box, found themselves very low as the Capitals worked the puck behind the net. As the puck was sent back towards the point, you can see just how much room John Carlson had to work with.

You have to watch this a few times to fully comprehend the amount of open space that Tampa allowed him and Ovechkin to have on this particular play. This plethora of open ice allowed Ovechkin to fire an uncontested shot that led to a huge rebound. He didn’t get nearly all of that shot, but the puck ended up in the back of the net off of the stick of Eller nonetheless.

Yes, in a world where it would be perfectly acceptable (though maybe not advisable) to glue a man onto Ovechkin when the Capitals are on the man advantage, he was allowed probably the most space he’s had in this entire postseason to sling one towards the net. The rest was on display for the world to see.

On Sunday night, a lack of pressure once again failed to pressure Kuznetsov. Positioned along the goal line, he fired a pass towards the crease, which snuck through an Andrei Vasilevskiy poke attempt. This was, once again, a power play goal coming in the dying seconds of a period that quickly broke the backs of the Lightning.

There are so many weapons on this power play unit opposite of Ovi when you take into account the cannon Carlson has at the point, the creativity of Evgeny Kuznetsov and the tiny amount of space T.J. Oshie needs to fire one top shelf.

If the Lightning don’t alter their structure pretty significantly to adjust to what happened in the opening contests of the series, the Capitals are going to have an absolute field day if Tampa can’t stay out of the box. Their penalty kill has struggled, but at the end of the day, we are talking about one of the league’s most dynamic and well-coached teams. They will likely have an answer over the next game or two, after which Washington will have to have a counter of their own.

Tampa Bay’s strategy on the penalty kill played into one of the Capitals’ biggest strengths. There is a lot of hockey to be played in this series, most of which will be played at a much higher level by the Lightning. Regardless, Washington’s performance was extremely encouraging, and if their power play can string together performances like that every night, they’re going to be an extremely hard team to beat.