A powerplay unit that features Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Ovechkin is a dream for 29 of the 30 teams in the NHL. But for the Capitals and their fans, it’s an exciting reality. With the off-season additions of Justin Williams and TJ Oshie and with Kuznetsov and Burakovsky developing limitlessly, it would seem that the Caps powerplay percentage should only go up. Realistically, goaltenders may be shaking in their skates.
While sitting at home, bored and still going through hockey withdrawal, I started toying around with the excellent stats database that NHL.com has to offer. I came away quite fascinated and maybe a bit surprised at how good the Caps powerplay has been the past few seasons and was also reminded of how lethal Backstrom and Ovechkin are when their squad has the man-advantage.
For the last 3 seasons, the Capitals have been on top of the league in powerplay percentage (tied for 1st with the Pens in 2013-14.) In 2012-13, the Caps’ powerplay percentage of 26.8 was the highest percentage the league has seen since Calgary’s 27.7% in the 1989-90 season. It also ranks as the third best percentage of any team since the NHL ‘started recording’ the stat in 1987-88. Last season’s powerplay percentage of 25.3, was eighth best among all teams since 1987-88. Considering how excellent goaltenders are these days and the number of teams competing in this league, those numbers are quite impressive.
Of course those numbers wouldn’t be the same if Ovechkin and Backstrom weren’t on the ice for the man-advantage.
If Ovechkin keeps it up, he could go down in league history as the best powerplay goal scorer of all time. Since Ovechkins first season in the league back in 2005-06, he has scored 176 regular season powerplay goals. In that time frame, the next best goal scorer on the man-advantage is Thomas Vanek and his 118 powerplay goals aren’t even close. In the same time frame, he has 355 powerplay points which is 25 points better than Crosby’s 325.
Backstrom’s first season with the Capitals began in 2007-08 and since then Backstrom’s 240 powerplay points is second in the league only to Ovechkin’s 266. Not bad at all considering he missed 40 games with a concussion in the 2011-12 season.
As I stated above, the Caps additions of TJ Oshie and Justin Williams along with up and coming stars Burakovsky and Kuznetsov should give Barry Trotz plenty of options for experimentation.
Mike Green was certainly a luxury for the Caps to have manning the point on the first unit last season and his departure has many fans worried. But when you have the offensive prowess and hard slapshot that John Carlson possesses, there’s not a lot of reason to be concerned about the first powerplay unit. Matt Niskanen has some experience manning the point as well and excelled at it when he was in Pittsburgh filling in for often injured Kris Letang. Dmitry Orlov certainly possesses the type of skill set needed as well but Trotz would most likely make Orlov play himself into the role.
At even strength I anticipate the Caps opening the season with TJ Oshie playing alongside Ovechkin and Backstrom and Justin Williams playing with Kuznetsov and Burakovsky (I think Johansson is headed for line 3 and Trotz puts Burry alongside 3 time Stanley Cup winner Williams). With this in mind, I think the powerplay units could be similar.
Projected Power Play units:
- Carlson, Ovechkin, Backstrom, Oshie, Johansson
- Niskanen, Kuznetsov, Williams, Burakovsky, Laich/Orlov
The first powerplay unit is any coach’s dream. Similar to last year’s with the exception of Troy Brouwer being swapped for Oshie. This is a swap that I’m more than happy with. How will it help the success rate?
Ovechkin’s shot from the left faceoff circle is hard and accurate. It’s clear that the Caps will take what the penalty killers give them. Most penalty killing units in the NHL will play the puck and stay close as possible to the player possessing it to eliminate extra room and passing lanes. The problem with this attack when playing the Caps is that they’ll use that to their advantage. Drawing penalty killers away from Ovechkin so he’s open for a one timer, which is usually too fast for the goalie to move laterally across the crease to make the save, has become quite lethal. This season it should only get better as Oshie is a better set-up guy than Brouwer was.
The few times we saw Ovechkin get stuffed (New York Rangers in the playoffs) on the powerplay, it left more options open on the other side of the ice. Unfortunately for the opposing team, Oshie will very much help in that regard as well as he will demand some attention from the penalty kill unit as well. With the leagues reigning assist champion in Backstrom a skilled Johansson and a Carlson’s heavy shot in the fold, killing this penalty should prove to be a daunting task.
Penalty killing is tiring and will drain you physically and mentally. This is why I like the Caps second unit against opposing team’s second wave of penalty killers. Kuznetsov was a stud at the end of last season and all throughout the playoffs. Something tells me we haven’t seen his best hockey. He’s a sniper and he’s creative. He will be the center piece of this unit and with weapons like Burakovsky and Williams surrounding him on the man-advantage, I don’t see why the second unit won’t be very productive with their limited time.
Throw in a double shifting Ovechkin or someone like Orlov doing his best Ovechkin impression from the left faceoff circle, the Caps second powerplay unit could be more productive than most team’s first units.
The best way for opponents to stop the Caps powerplay will be to stay out of the box. Staying disciplined will top the list for the Caps opponents. I’m sure Trotz and company will put plenty of time into the powerplay before the season gets underway. See you at Kettler!!
By Zach Hart