The Washington Capitals’ power play unit is finally seeing its much-needed shakeup. Blaine Forsythe, who had been at the helm as an assistant coach for the last 14 seasons, was let go after his power-play system went stale in recent years.
From 2009 to 2023, the Capitals power play was 21.8%, which was the best in the league during that time frame. Last year it was very inconsistent, in large part due to missing personnel, but there were also structural flaws and execution errors with the formation.
Washington’s power play was 16th in the NHL at 21.2% in 2022-23. Nicklas Backstrom, who is the setup man on the power-play, missed the entire first half of last season, and John Carlson, who is the anchor at the point, missed significant time after taking a puck to the face in late December.
Forsythe utilized a 1-3-1 system, which typically has four forwards and one defenseman.
Outside of one or two personnel changes, the five-man unit typically consisted of Alex Ovechkin in his office, T.J. Oshie in the bumper position, Evgeny Kuznetsov on the half-wall, Dylan Strome in front of the net and Carlson serving as the quarterback at the point.
Here is a diagram of the 1-3-1 formation.
The goal was simple. Get the puck to Ovi and he will hammer it home with his one-timer. Outside of 14 power-play goals Ovechkin scored, teams started to clamp down on the great-8 more frequently.
The biggest adjustment that the power play needs is simple: more movement. There was too much stagnation last year and players held onto the puck for too long. When the Capitals’ power play was at its peak, it was the exact opposite.
Here is a compilation of the Capitals’ power-play goals during the 2013-14 season, where it was the best in the league at 23.4%.
Three things standout in that video. First, Washington cycled the puck quickly. Second, it shot the puck whenever it had a shooting lane. Third, it used all its options instead of forcing passes through lanes that were not open. In last year’s case, it was forcing a pass to Ovechkin in his office far too often, instead of guys like Carlson or Kuznetsov shooting.
Those are the three things that the Caps have to get back to. Movement, shots and utilizing options.
The Edmonton Oilers’ historic 32.4% power play was successful because of how quickly they would cycle the puck and shoot whenever they had the chance. It also helps when you have some of the league’s best players in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, and a sneaky weapon in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Former Calgary Flames assistant coach Kirk Muller will be running the new power play unit this season under Spencer Carbery. Muller ran the St. Louis Blues’ power play from 2014 to 2016. During that time frame, the Blues had the third-best man-advantage unit in the NHL at 21.9%.
Last year with Calgary however, his power play was ranked 19th in the NHL, but he did not have the elite talent of the likes of Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk. The year prior the Flames were ranked 10th in the league at 22.9%.
Ryan Pyke of flamesnation.ca wrote, “The power play units that Muller had success with had two things: right shot options and tons of shot volume. On shot volume, there appears to be a pretty clean correlation between tons of shots and a high level of expected goals when you look at Muller’s previous stops.”
The increase in shot volume will help generate more high-danger scoring chances, and create second and third chance opportunities.
Hopefully the power play will make those adjustments and be more consistent in this upcoming campaign.
By Jacob Cheris