The Washington Capitals have toiled through this off-season to improve the team while dealing with the salary cap and Restricted Free Agents (RFA’s). The team most notably acquired TJ Oshie via trade with the St. Louis Blues, and Justin Williams by way of Free Agency. The Capitals also lost three players during the offseason. First is Offensive Defenseman Mike Green, who left via Free Agency to the Detroit Red Wings. The Caps also lost Joel Ward to the San Jose Sharks the same way, and RW Troy Brower was traded in the deal that brought TJ Oshie to the Caps. These moves will affect what was arguably the most lethal Power Play (PP) during the regular season. This article will examine the possible changes by breaking down the PP by position in comparison to last year, and how this affects the Power Play.
The ENTIRE Left Side – Alex Ovechkin.
No change here, and why would you? Ovechkin is a unique player. His release, combined with his accuracy, make his one-timer the most feared weapon on any PP. There is much more to Alex’s play than just his one-timer. He patrols the ENTIRE left side. His acceleration is such that he can roam the entire side, from the endline to the blueline, and get to pucks on that side before defenders do, or he can sneak in for the lay-up. Because of his size and strength, Alex can play both wall and corner to dig out loose pucks, squeeze off puck-chasing defenders, and get the puck to a safe spot. Defenders are wary of challenging Alex in those situations, partly because of Alex’s affinity for hitting. Ovechkin is also an underrated passer. While he doesn’t have the touch that Backstrom has, his offensive awareness is higher than most realize, and he makes some great passes on the PP. If you watch closely, you will often see Ovechkin directing the play from the left. This is because the defenders have to watch for the deadly passes from Backstrom on the right, and lose track of Ovechkin.
The Slot – This Year, Justin Williams; Last Year, Troy Brower.
Williams and Brower are both big, right-handed players. Brower is a VERY BIG man, and the Caps will miss some of that with the slightly smaller Williams. However, Williams does have a better scoring touch, better hands, and a better offensive awareness than Brower. Williams’ goal total should go up this year if he does indeed play the slot on the PP.
Brower’s most important service to the PP was his faceoff abilities. He was the Caps’ first choice for these duties on the Power Play last year. With him gone, the Caps will have to rely heavily on Nick Backstrom, or they can put in Beagle for faceoffs and replace him with Williams as play allows. There is also the possibility that Beagle could see some time on the top PP unit in the slot.
The Right Half-Wall – Nick Backstrom.
Backstrom is one of the league’s elite passers and puck handlers. His skillset and awareness are perfectly suited for controlling play on the more congested right side of the PP. He has some size and is better than most at digging out and protecting the puck. The pickup of TJ Oshie will mean space for him to operate, creating passing lanes for one-timers, or for him to take a shot on net. If Backstrom shoots more often, it will mean more space for others, and a more effective PP.
The Point – This Year, John Carlson; Last Year, Mike Green and John Carlson.
Mike Green is one of the best passing and shooting blueliners in the league. So why did he lose the top point position on the PP to John Carlson last season? First, Green had lost the will to shoot the puck from the point. This might have been psychological, but Green’s inability to get shots on net fell ill with the Caps’ coaching staff. Second, Green’s indecision at the point made him a defensive liability and made the likelihood of a short-handed (SH) goal against more likely.
John Carlson is better than Green in those respects. His shot is not better than Green’s, But his shooting was more effective at getting to the net, which means more goals scored from the point and more goals scored as a result of shots from the point. Defensively, there is no comparing the two, as Carlson is the far superior player in that area.
But what do the Caps lose in replacing Green with Carlson? They miss Green’s passing. Specifically, they will miss Green’s ability to dish Ovechkin that perfect pass right into his wheelhouse for the deadly one-timer. By comparison, passes from Carlson may end up as Ovechkin one-timers, but they are more likely to end up in Ovechkin having to gather the puck for a wrist shot instead. This point should not be overlooked.
Below the Endline, in the Corner – This Year, TJ Oshie; Last Year, Marcus Johansson.
Over the last few years, Johansson has improved his play against the walls and coming off of them to shoot. Oshie however, is a definite upgrade. While only 5’11”, TJ does not play that way. He is very strong for his size and can play like a power forward, especially when fighting for the puck against the wall or in the corners. He is aalso a great puckhandler as evidenced by his famous shootout display in the Olympics. These two elements mean that Oshie is more of a threat to step out from behind the net, to in front of the net on a power plays more often, providing he is willing to. The result is that space will open up for either Williams or Ovechkin if he does it enough and becomes a threat in the minds of opposing coaches and defenders.
Oshie and Backstrom can switch places on the fly, if only for a few moments. Their skill sets are similar, though Backstrom is a better passer. This offers the PP the chance to confuse the defense and for Oshie to shoot from the half-wall or Backstrom to power from the corner.
The Second Units
These units see from 30 to 45 seconds at the tail end of the PP, and sometimes start if some of the first unit players have just been on the ice. You can expect Kuznetsov and Burakovsky to play the half wall and corner, sometimes switching places. In the slot goes Tom Wilson or Beagle, probably alternating, depending on the situation. The back two change as well. Niskanen will play the left side, but who plays the point will be interesting. Orlov might see time there. He is a good offensive defenseman that should be utilized on the the PP.
Is this PP going to be better than last year?
This is hard to predict, but my gut feeling is yes. In the past, the Power Play was entirely about Ovechkin, maybe too much so. Yes, he is the most dangerous weapon in the NHL, but the team seemed to be more focused on getting the puck to him than actually running the Power Play as a whole. The loss of Green means that Ovi won’t get as many perfect passes for his lethal one-timer. However, Carlson’s shooting is important because it creates rebounds which forces defenses to defend Williams in the slot. They can no longer just defend the pass for the one-timer from Ovechkin. TJ Oshie now improves the threat that the corner man can pose. Instead of just being a passer, defenders have to now be wary of a move out of the corner to in front of the net. The loss of Brower isn’t that serious as Williams is a good scorer and the dropoff in faceoff efficiency between Brower and Backstrom isn’t that severe.
The Caps now have a Power Play where EVERY player is a more dangerous threat. If Backstrom, Oshie, and Carlson shoot the puck, even a little, there will be more space for Williams in the slot and more clean looks for Ovechkin in the “Ovi Spot.”
Lincoln Cajulis is writer in Virginia Beach who used to live in Northern Virginia. He’s suffered through many multiple overtime playoff games over almost 30 years.
He can be reached at: rlc72-NovaCaps@Yahoo.com