Credit: Getty Images/ Justin K. Aller
In four games and fifteen powerplay opportunities, the Washington Capitals have only one man-advantage goal. Earlier this season, I wrote an article about why the Caps powerplay works as well as it does. Now I’m here to tell you why it hasn’t been working like it should.
Puck movement has stagnated.
The Capitals used to have quick passes on the powerplay, which was effective for getting the defensive diamond to move and force the goaltender to readjust in net. Generating that type of movement in front can help use the opposing defense as a screen on their own goaltender, giving the Caps a better opportunity at deflection and rebound scoring chances. The center movement by the defense also allowed the Caps to make thread-the-needle type passes to each other, something that Kuznetsov excelled at last season.
This season, however, the puck movement has slowed down, and the opposing defense has time to get into position to block shots and passes that come through the center of the ice. Players are holding onto the puck for too long before either passing the puck back to the point or to the guy down low, at which point the opponents know that the Caps are either going to go to Ovechkin for the one-timer or to Oshie in the center. Because of how static the puck movement is, the defense has time to foresee the play developing, which leads to the next point:
Player movement around the perimeter needs to pick up.
Powerplay units for the Caps didn’t have to do too much moving when the passing game was the driving force of the man-advantage, but because the rate of play has slowed down, the Caps need to pick up the player movement. Take a team like Columbus, for example, who have a powerplay effectiveness of 32.4% on the season so far. The man on the point will often collapse into the zone and crash the center, while the man on the wing will cover the point. Keeping players dynamic on the ice prevents the other team from setting up a defense. It also allows for second and third opportunities when you send in another player to crash the net after a powerplay shot, which is how Columbus scored a good number of PPGs against the Canadiens in their 10-0 victory, which brings me to the final point that I want to bring up:
The Caps need to win the race to the rebounds.
So far this season, the Caps haven’t been crashing the net nearly as much as they did in the past on the powerplay. This isn’t just problematic because we only get one scoring chance at a time, but it also allows the other team to have time to clear the puck out of the zone. The Capitals haven’t been the best so far at setting up the half-ice offense lately either, but they’re getting more offensive zone time on the powerplay than they were earlier in the season.
Crashing the net also gets the other team to scramble after the puck and collapse deep into their own zone. If one of the Capitals players can win the battle to the puck while they’re scrambling and dish it back out to the point, they will get solid scoring chances with plenty of traffic in front of the net to screen the goaltender.
All in all, the Capitals’ powerplay isn’t awful, but it hasn’t changed in quite some time. Most other teams know what to expect when they’re a man-down and they see Ovechkin hovering in the left circle. Maybe the best thing to do at this point is to change-up how the Capitals go about playing in the offensive zone on the man-advantage, and to not be afraid to cycle players or crash the net harder for the rebound.
This Capitals team has plenty of pieces to make for a ferocious powerplay, so maybe a small tweak in strategy can get the Caps’ man-advantage to be the best in the league again.
By Justin Green