Should He Stay Or Should He Go? Examining the Capitals’ Performance On The Power Play Under Blaine Forsythe

The Washington Capitals have entrusted Assistant Coach Blaine Forsythe with leading the power play unit since the 2012-13 season. Forsythe has been an assistant for the Caps’ during the last four head coaches (Adam Oates, Barry Trotz, Todd Reirden, and Peter Laviolette). The most likely reason why Forsythe has lasted through four regimes in Washington is the prolonged success of the power play through the first half of his tenure.

One of the top questions facing the Capitals this off-season is whether Forsythe will make it to his fifth regime during his time in Washington. In this post, we’re going to dive into the performance of the power play under Forsythe’s tutelage and determine if Forsythe is deserving of another season manning the power play.

2022-23 Power Play performance

First up, let’s take a look at how the Capitals have fared on the power play this season by using their NHL rank over the course of the season: [Click to enlarge]

One large caveat with this season’s performance is most definitely going to be injuries to top six forwards, as well as John Carlson, over the course of the season. As more games played entered the sample size, the performance started to regulate a bit more to around the league average mark of 16th overall. After Carlson returned and the Capitals had a relatively healthy lineup available, the Caps’ power play started sitting in the range of 12th to 15th in the league.

Obviously, it’s going to be hard to completely course correct a season-long dormant power play, at least when compared to Capitals’ power play efficiency ratings of the past. Player health is a part of the formula, but I’m not quite convinced that injuries are the largest contributor to the Capitals’ power play performance falling off the proverbial cliff.

To set the stage, here’s how the Capitals have fared in terms of power play effectiveness since the 2012-13 regular season:

The trend line for the Capitals’ overall effectiveness rating when on the power play is clearly trending negatively, meaning the Caps performance is worsening over time. The 2020-21 season looks largely like an outlier when considering the two seasons prior and after that season. The diminishing returns on the power play are hurting the performance on the ice (and in the standings).

Capitals’ Power Play Since 2012-13

Now, let’s look at the Caps’ NHL rank in the power play since the 2012-13 season:

The trend line in the visual above might look positive, but the Caps have a considerably negative trend since their utterly dominant five-season stretch from 2012-13 to 2016-17. Again, the 2020-21 performance largely looks like an outlier.

I mentioned that there were a variety of factors that affect the Capitals’ power play performance over this eleven season stretch. At a zoomed out glance, it just appears that the Capitals are aging, are less effective on the ice, and that results in diminishing returns with the man advantage.

I dove into the power play performance of the Capitals since 2012-13 on HockeyViz, and found some interesting points of reference:

There’s an overtly concerning trend over the past few seasons compared to early in the Forsythe era of managing the implementation of the power play strategy. The Capitals were able to generate an excess of shot attempts compared to league average in wide swaths of spots on the ice, especially in the slot area. When we get to the 2022-23 season, the Caps only have one spot where a concentration of shot attempts are taken, and it’s exactly where you’d expect.

Part of this is the league adapting to the Capitals’ long standing power play formation. Teams have started to pressure the strong side of the ice, where Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov post up on the half-wall across the ice from Alex Ovechkin. This has resulted in shot attempts from that area being unattainable, and usually results in either moving the puck down the wall to the player manning the area near the trapezoid, or a chip up the boards to Carlson (or whoever is manning the point) at the blue line.

The problem there is that you’re getting the puck to players that have practically zero opportunity to score or make the next pass to punish the over-extension of the penalty killers. On top of that, you don’t have the time to make the cross-seam pass to Ovechkin to slam a one-timer. The only real opportunity to get a shot on goal at this point is to force it to Ovechkin, where the penalty killers on the weak side have more of a chance to block the shot and free up the area in front of the net so the goalie can see the shot coming.

I want to compare the shot charts above (especially this season’s) to the Edmonton Oilers’ performance. They’re leading the league with a 32.4% effectiveness rate on the power play this season:

There’s a vast difference here. The Oilers are able to create an excess of shot attempts in very dangerous areas on the ice. There’s only really one way that this is possible: continuous movement from players around the offensive zone, creating tired penalty killers and exposing mismatches or mistakes made by the opponent.

The Capitals rely too much on a rigid, structured formation on the power play, which makes them too predictable. The only real movement you get is from the two players on the half-wall and below the goal line to interchange and Ovechkin periodically moving down to the face-off dot or switching with Carlson. Continuous movement creates a variety of opportunities, and those types of playmaking opportunities is where players like Backstrom or Kuznetsov should shine if given the opportunity.

Should he stay or should he go?

It’s pretty apparent that the Capitals are just average on the power play at this point in time. With the Ovechkin Era entering its twilight, average just isn’t going to cut it anymore. The power play’s effectiveness becomes even more important when your five-on-five performance is struggling.

It’s clear that the strategy and formation that the Capitals have been using for over a decade at this point has become stale and no longer feasible for long term (or short term) success. The Caps would be better off moving on from Forsythe and looking elsewhere for a proven power play coach who can implement a strategy that falls more in line with more successful teams’ strategies around the NHL today.

By Justin Trudel


About Justin Trudel

Justin is a lifelong Caps fan, with some of his first memories of the sport watching the team in the USAir Arena and the 1998 Stanley Cup appearance. Now a resident of St. Augustine, FL, Justin watches the Caps from afar. Justin graduated with a Bachelor's of Science in Political Science from Towson University, and a Master's of Science in Applied Information Technology from Towson University. Justin is currently a product manager. Justin enjoys geeking out over advanced analytics, roster construction, and cap management.
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16 Responses to Should He Stay Or Should He Go? Examining the Capitals’ Performance On The Power Play Under Blaine Forsythe

  1. David Inkeles says:

    Should he go? He should’ve been gone 3 years ago. The power play is awful and predictable. His job is the power play and face offs and both suck.
    Fire him yesterday

    • Agreed, parting ways with Forsythe was probably due when the Capitals fired Reirden. It’s pretty interesting that the Caps’ front office hasn’t allowed their head coaching hires to hire their own staff completely…

  2. Jon Sorensen says:

    Greetings folks! Just a quick note, if you haven’t done so already, please consider subscribing to NoVa Caps posts in the “subscribe” box located in the upper right corner. Thank you!

    • KimRB says:

      I did, I did! For God’s sake, man, show me some mercy! What do you want from us, blood?!


  3. KimRB says:

    I can still remember when, in the Young Guns days, fans and writers from around the league were saying “the Capitals can only score on the power play”

    That seems like forever ago

  4. Diane Doyle says:

    Definitely, time for Forsythe to go. I don’t understand how he’s lasted through so many head coaches.

  5. Anonymous says:

    But Oshie was hurt…

    • Anonymous says:

      True. Injuries can be blamed for this seasons poor performance. I believe that is fair. But the tend over time as Justin described makes me thing Forsythe has run out of ideas

  6. novafyre says:

    He should be past tense already.

  7. GRin430 says:

    Wait… You’re allowed to shoot the puck from right in front of the net on a power play? Are you sure? I thought shots could only come from the left face-off circle…

    Plus, I’m pretty sure the only movement allowed is sliding back and forth and twirling around…

  8. hockeydruid says:

    He did well for a spell but now its time to move on. For some coaches it seems that they can tach players others, like Forsythe, get lucky and then stick with that formula even when the ret of the league has caught up to it. I guess you could call him a one trick pony. The only one from this coaching staff that should be retained or next year should be Allen. Not to harp on the owner, again, however i feel that the problem of not wanting to pay Trotz is the perfect example of what is wrong with this team: they pay players large sums of money on long contracts however they do not want to pay coaches to coach the players. If you want a winning team it starts with a winning coaching staff that is one the same page. IT seems that keeping coaches from other head coaches is just a money saving tactic to waste more on players. On the other hand as the owner is obviously satisfied, at last for the next three years, in being a very mediocre team and miss the playoffs in favor of obtaining a personal record, why change the coaching staff until you are ready to do a complete rebuild?

  9. Anonymous says:

    He isn’t the problem (it’s personnel), but he isn’t part of the solution either.

    • hockeydruid says:

      I feel its both. If Ovie is hitting his shots all is right, however if not then it seems that no one else can hit either. I feel that teams know what the Caps are trying to do and some really have the personal to frustrate the players on the PP. Some nights it seems like the other team is saying OK we are going to shut down the others lets see if Ovie is on or off tonight and some teams focus on Ovie but the other players cant hit the net. There is more to the PP than just Ovie shooting but I fear that is all Forsythe knows.

      • Anonymous says:

        It’s not that it’s all he knows so much as he knows where his bread is buttered. Even when Ovechkin’s covered, he still manages to score. Go with the strong hand. I don’t entirely agree with it, but it’s logical.

  10. hockeydruid says:

    On a side note on coaching look at what Vanevek stats are this year in NJ (49 45 30 11 0 4 1,255 115 2.52 1,140 .908 3 2,736) and Samsonov in Toronto ( 39 37 25 10 0 4 1,084 92 2.41 992 .915 4 2,291) and that should tell you all you need to know about the coaches in Washington. Does Forsythe need to go….YES and so do all the rest. The only one I would keep would be Allen and that would be if the new HC wanted him. A new HC and coaching staff and a new GM and an owner who was not involved in the operation of the team would help!

  11. Anonymous says:

    Let’s get tougher on defense. The defense doesn’t hit anyone and if theopposition is allowed to stand there and not worry

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