There’s no question the Washington Capitals‘ special teams suffered during the first part of the 2021-22 season. The penalty kill dipped to 78.0% in early February and the power play dropped below 14% during it’s darkest of times. So what was the issue with the Capitals’ power play?
Well, we really couldn’t do any responsible analysis during the first part of the season, as 40% of the Capitals’ high-flying power play was sidelined with injury. Any analysis or comparison prior to their return was simply comparing apples to oranges.
But as players begin to get healthier and begin to return to lineup we can also begin to take a more substantive look at the Capitals special teams. In this post I’ll focus on the power play.
The first table simply aggregates the power plays and subsequent results for games beginning on January 10 – Nicklas Backstrom’s first game back. The second green ban demarcates the return of T.J. Oshie on February 24.
Since the return of Nicklas Backstrom full time on January 10th, (he had three intermittent test games in December) the Capitals power play has gone 15 for 65 for 23%, a cumulative improvement of 10% over the success rate prior to his return. The power play has been the 14th best in the league since January 10.
T.J. Oshie and the combination of him and Backstrom has brought an additional increase in success rates since his return on February 24. The Capitals power play has gone 6 for 18 in his first five games back for a 33% success rate. The Capitals have had the seventh best power play since both Backstrom and Oshie have returned.
Rates Of Improvement
The following graph simply summarizes the rates of improvement since Backstrom and Oshie returned. The red vertical lines delineate the return points for Backstrom and Oshie. The green trend lines represent the ‘rates of improvement’ for each return period. [Click to enlarge].
There is little question the power play missed Backstrom and Oshie. This is more a reflection of having Oshie return to the bumper spot (a position that suffered greatly during his absence) coupled with Nicklas Backstrom’s anchoring of the power play.
A Word Of Caution
While there is no question the Capitals’ special teams are once again trending towards more acceptable levels of play, there is a word of caution. The Capitals power play is just 5 for 35 against playoff-caliber teams. That’s a success rate of 14.3%.
However, that word of caution can be countered with the fact that the Capitals can only play who is on their schedule, and the power play in the last five games with both Backstrom and Oshie has been excellent, regardless of who they’ve played. [The Hurricanes had the league’s best penalty kill when they faced the Capitals last week, although it was struggling in recent games).
There are just two weeks before the NHL trade deadline, so you can bet the Capitals are busy crunching numbers (like us) as the team returns to full strength and we can now begin to assess the real Capitals team and their strengths and weaknesses.
Are the Capitals special teams back to their normal top-10 status? Not yet, but they are certainly trending in that direction. Next week will bring additional tests of the Capitals power play, as the Calgary Flames have the league’s 4th-best penalty kill.
By Jon Sorensen