The Capitals power play has not been as effective this season as it has in previous seasons. If you look at the rankings right now Washington sits in the 15th spot in power play percentage at 18.7%. That’s not bad, but it is very unusual for the Caps who are used to a high ranking. Look back at the past four seasons, all top five finishes and two of those top five finishes were first place finishes.
Do you want to go back even further? Then we shall. How about we go all the way back to when Nicklas Backstrom entered the NHL, the 2007-08 NHL season. Since then the Capitals have finished top ten in power play percentage seven times out of nine seasons. Now you can clearly see how rare it is for the Capitals to finish low in power play percentage in the Alex Ovechkin-Backstrom era.
While the 15th spot is unfamiliar for the Caps, recently they have hit a very familiar note. The power play has started to click. For the first 22 games of the season the Capitals were hitting at just a 14.3% rate. They had scored just 10 power play goals in 70 attempts. The sputtering power play was one of the reasons the Capitals were struggling and starting to fall in the standings.
The Capitals are now on a five game winning streak and a six game point streak. They have scored 7 power play goals on 21 opportunities. It’s not a coincidence that Washington has started to put good results together and the power play is getting hot.
Look at some of these power play goals and the times that they were scored. Backstrom ties the game in the third period with a PPG against the Tampa Bay Lightning in a close game. Marcus Johansson ties the game late in the third period against the Buffalo Sabres. John Carlson finished the Sabres a couple of days later with a PPG. Ovechkin broke a goal slump with a power play goal in the first period that ended up being a game winner in a very good defensive game for the Capitals against the Vancouver Canucks.
Most Impressive to me was the showing against the New York Islanders this past Tuesday. New York’s penalty kill over their previous ten games was operating at 92% and was 93.8% their last five games. With the game in it’s final minutes and the Capitals holding onto a one goal lead it was Matt Niskanen who put the nail in the Islanders coffin. Another BIG power play goal leading to Washington’s fifth straight win.
But how has it changed? To me it’s possibly just one thing. Defensive production. Look at the first 22 games of the season, the defense had a combined 4 power play points. I’ll spell that out for you just in case you missed it, FOUR. John Carlson had two assists, Dmitri Orlov had one assist as did Niskanen.
How many points does the defense have in the past six games? Seven. Carlson has the majority of those with five points including one goal, Niskanen has chipped in with a goal as mentioned above and Orlov has an assist.
The Capitals have plenty of play makers on offense and on the power play but you still need your defense to contribute. And what do you know, the defense starts putting up points and the power play starts to go at a 33% rate.
You can look at the forwards too if you want. The big names were somewhat fine for the first 22 games, Backstrom had 8 points(although he had zero goals), Ovechkin had 4 goals and 6 points, Oshie had 2 goals, Johansson had 2 goals, the first unit and the big guys were OK. Still room for improvement but OK.
It was the supporting guys that weren’t putting up any numbers. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Justin Williams and Andre Burakovsky had a combined 3 points. In the six games since Kuznetsov alone has 3 points. Williams has added 2 points and Jakob Vrana who has basically taken Burakovsky’s place also has 2 points.
It looks like the Capitals power play has finally figured it out. It’s a good thing it has because the Capitals are bottom half of the league in five on five goals with just fifty. If they’re not going to be a high scoring 5v5 team they will need the power play.
That hot power play will get a very big test very quickly. The Capitals face the Carolina Hurricanes Friday night who are atop the NHL in penalty kill percentage at 92.3%. If you want to put that into perspective the number two team St. Louis is killing at 88.2%.
Make no mistake about it, the Capitals power play is a huge reason the Capitals have won five in a row. With teams in the metro division putting impressive win streaks together it couldn’t have come at a better time.
By CJ Paige