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With Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals just days away, both the Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights are preparing for what should be a memorable series, one that will feature top-end talent on both the power play and penalty kill for each club. In this piece, NoVa Caps looks at how the two teams’ units stack up.
Despite the losses of key power play stalwarts in Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams last summer, the Caps’ power play units finished in the Top 10 in the league rankings, finishing with the seventh-best man-advantage unit, scoring on 22.5% of their power play opportunities (55 goals in 244 opportunities). Alex Ovechkin led the team in power play markers with 17, while right wing T.J. Oshie finished second with nine. Both Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom finished with seven during the regular season to round out the Top 4. Kuznetsov led the team with 23 assists on the man-advantage and defenseman John Carlson led the team in overall scoring on the man-advantage with 32 points (four goals, 28 assists). Ovechkin led all Capitals skaters with average ice time on the power play, averaging 4:41 of ice time on the man-advantage a night for Head Coach Barry Trotz. Carlson was second with 3:41.
The Capitals currently possess the NHL’s best power play unit of the final two teams remaining in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and overall have the second-best power play of all the teams that have played in the playoffs (second only to the Boston Bruins), having scored on 28.8% of their power play opportunities (17/59). T.J. Oshie leads the team in power play markers with five, while Carlson leads the team in overall scoring on the man-advantage with 10 points (three goals, seven assists).
Golden Knights: In what turned out to be a spectacular inaugural season, the Golden Knights excelled in many aspects of the game, including their power play. Vegas’ units ranked 11th during the regular season, scoring on 21.4% of their power play opportunities (53 goals in 248 opportunities). Left wing Erik Haula led the team in power play tallies during the regular season with 12, followed by William Karlsson’s eight, Reilly Smith’s seven, and Jonathan Marchessault’s six. Haula also led the team in overall scoring with 19 points (12 goals, seven assists), while David Perron led the team with 17 power play assists. Defenseman Shea Theodore led the team in average power play ice time, averaging 2:33 minutes on the power play per game during the regular season.
The Golden Knights’ power play performance in the playoffs has been slightly better than it was during the regular season, ranking 10th overall among all teams that have played in the 2018 playoffs and (obviously) second to the Caps in terms of the teams playing in the Finals, scoring on 17.6% of their power play opportunities (9/51). Alex Tuch leads the Golden Knights in power play goals with three, while Jonathan Marchessault leads the team in overall scoring with six points (one goal, five assists) on the man-advantage.
CAPITALS: The Capitals’ penalty kill was not as effective as their power play, finishing 15th during the regular season, killing 80.3% of the penalties they took. With the loss of key penalty killers such as defenseman Karl Alzner, Nate Schmidt, and Daniel Winnik last summer, the Caps employed a number of new faces on the PK, including Chandler Stephenson, Alex Chiasson, and Oshie saw more time as a penalty killer as well. Defenseman Brooks Orpik led the team in average time on ice on the penaly kill, averaging an astounding 3:06 minutes of shorthanded ice time, followed by Matt Niskanen’s 2:43 and Carlson’s 2:37, respectively. Lars Eller, Tom Wilson, and Jay Beagle continued to play strong roles in killing penalties for Trotz. The Capitals scored four shorthanded goals during the regular season, with goals from Kuznetsov, Wilson, Beagle, and Chiasson.
The Caps’ penalty kill in the playoffs has performed fairly better, ranking 10th amongst teams that have competed in the 2018 playoffs by killing off 75.4% of the opposition’s power plays (15 power play goals against in 61 times shorthanded). Stephenson is the only Capital with a shorthanded marker in the playoffs.
Golden Knights: Like their power play, the Golden Knights’ penalty kill ranked in the upper-echelon of teams during the regular season, killing off 81.4% of the opposition’s power play opportunities for a 12th-best PK unit. The Golden Knights were led in average shorthanded ice time during the regular season by defenseman Deryk Engelland, who averaged 2:57 of shorthanded ice time for head coach Gerard Gallant, followed by fellow defensemen Brayden McNabb and Luca Sbisa, who averaged 2:43 and 2:22, respectively. The Golden Knights scored eight shorthanded goals during the regular season, headlined by William Karlsson’s FOUR shorties.
Vegas’ penalty kill has been one of the best in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, ranking fourth amongst teams that have played in the 2018 postseason, allowing just 10 power play goals against in 57 times shorthanded in 15 playoff games. Despite scoring the aforementioned eight shorthanded goals during the regular season, Vegas has no shorthanded goals during the playoffs.
KEY PLAYERS TO WATCH
With both teams possessing outstanding talented and role players, here are two players from each team (one on the PP and one on the PK) to watch during the Stanley Cup Finals:
ALEX OVECHKIN: As has been the case throughout his career, the Capitals’ captain is the team’s biggest weapon on the man-advantage, as he once again led the team in power play goals during the regular season with 17, and is second on the team in the playoffs with four through 19 games played. Ovechkin has recorded 28 shots on the power play in the 2018 playoffs, with 50.9% of his shots getting through to the opposition’s net. With the Golden Knight’s playoff penalty killing unit one of the best in the 2018 postseason, Ovechkin will have to get shots off quick and accurately if he is to be successful on the man-advantage.
BROOKS ORPIK: While unheralded by many Capitals fans, Orpik is arguably, the team’s most valuable defenseman on the penalty kill, evidenced by his 3:06 average shorthanded ice time during the regular season, as well as his 50 blocked shots and 18 hits. Orpik has 14 blocked shots on the penalty kill in 19 playoff games and has played 60.8 minutes in the penalty kill this postseason. With the Golden Knights’ talent on the power play, look for ORpik to see substantial PK time for Trotz.
ERIK HAULA: Haula led the Golden Knights in power play goals and scoring with 12 and 19, respectively, and averaged 2:22 minutes of ice time on the man-advantage for Gerard Gallant during the regular season. During the playoffs, Haula has been relatively quiet, with just one assist one the power play, but given his performance during the regular season, Haula should not be taken lightly by the Caps’ penalty killers.
WILLIAM KARLSSON: While known more for his offensive output during the regular season, Karlsson shone brightly on the penalty kill, scoring a team-high four shorthanded goals, three more than the other four players with shorthanded goals. Karlsson averaged 1:39 of ice time on the penalty kill during the playoffs, with no shorthanded goals in 15 games played in the playoffs to this point. While competition becomes much more hardened during the postseason, Karlsson possesses the skill and speed to get behind the Caps’ power play while shorthanded, a fact that should not be taken lightly.
By Michael Fleetwood