New Faces Look To Provide Much-Needed Stoking Of Capitals Power Play

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.

Via The Athletic 

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.

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

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%.

RELATED: Washington Capitals Name Kirk Muller, Kenny McCudden Assistant Coaches

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 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

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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11 Responses to New Faces Look To Provide Much-Needed Stoking Of Capitals Power Play

  1. franky619 says:

    If they really want a better PP they’ll take Backstrom off of it. Strome or Kuzy should be on the right side.

  2. Dave says:

    I don’t mean to be critical, but are these numbers right?

    “From 2009 to 2023, the Capitals power play was 21.8%, which was the best in the league during that time frame. Last year…Washington’s power play was 16th in the NHL at 21.2%”

    That’s not much of a difference (0.6%). Is this a case of the Caps maintaining a consistent ~21% and the other teams getting significantly better, so that our standard 21% can no longer be near the top? (I would throw out Edmonton’s historic 32.4% in making an assessment since that was, well, historic, and just look at team’s that were #2 through whatever).

    Or is it a matter of significant fluctuation over the 2009 to 2023 years so that the overall 21.8% buries the fact that we also had some poor years in that time? I’m not sure this would likely be the case since “during the 2013-14 season, [the Caps were] the best in the league at 23.4%,” which is only 2.2% better than last year.

    Or is it a case of a ton of teams all being bunched up in the 20% to 22% range so that minute differences (e.g., 0.8%) being the difference between being 2nd or 3rd best and being 12th or 15th best? That might be a case of the “ordinal fallacy” — e.g., ranking tennis players ordinally makes it appear that the difference between the #3 player and the #4 player is the same as the difference between the #2 player and the #3 player (in fact, there was usually a huge drop off after Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and then whoever the #4 player was). Or, to the contrary, perhaps these “minute” differences are not so minute after all — that a difference of 0.8% actually results in a significant number of more wins or losses?

    I suppose there could also be a factor of some teams “needing” success on their power play (i.e., they don’t score at a high rate at 5-on-5) more than others. (That also raises an interesting question of how much deviation there is between 5-on-5 scoring and PP scoring amongst teams — I’m not sure if there’s been much research into that and potential causes for significant deviations).

    Finally, since Backstrom and Carlson were both missing for significant portions of the season last year, it could be useful to see what our percentages were when they (or at least one of them) were in the lineup. That could help get at issues of missing personnel vs issues of a stagnant system.

    Again, I don’t mean to be critical but I just think there’s a lot of really interesting issues raised here.

    • John Chick says:

      I agree with Dave’s analysis. The drop last year doesn’t appear to be significant on paper and seems to directly correlate to the loss of the two key players in Backstrom, Carlson, and Oshie. It appeared to be more significant due the lack of 5v5 scoring by which power plays became all the more important. For all the grief given to Forsythe, the numbers show that he did something right for a very long time – or maybe that was largely driven by the availability of these same key players??

      • hockeydruid says:

        Yes it is not significant on paper however I would think that the Boss was looking at the fact that they ranked 16th not who was missing. But then again of a team that had the 8/9th worst record in the league being 16th was not bad especially considering that they were missing 2 or 3 players at times from the 1st PP. however the PP, like the team, is getting old and slower and stale an also teams are stopping it somewhat more. Time to do more than pass around until Ovie shoots. Change the pace of the PP, some fast and some slow and some are nothing more that rapid fire. The more different things you can show the more effective you can become! And players who will not shoot or do not want to shoot should sit!

  3. novafyre says:

    The South Carolina Stingrays signed forward Matt Tugnutt to a contract for the 2023-24 season. Tugnutt, 27, joins the Stingrays for his third year of professional hockey and his second season in the ECHL. He spent the 2022-23 season in France. He skated in 37 games for the Pioneers and scored 29 points (13g-16a). Tugnutt split the 2021-22 season between Idaho and Greenville. He began the campaign with the Steelheads, registering 20 points (7g-13a) in 49 games before being traded to the Swamp Rabbits where he added five assists in four games.

  4. novafyre says:

    The South Carolina Stingrays re-signed forward Jonny Evans to a contract for the 2023-24 season. Evans, 26, returns to the only team he has played for in his professional career. He has skated in 52 games for the Stingrays, registering 43 points (16g-27a).

    • Rich427 says:

      Hey Fyre, I see Lightning are participating in the Rookie Showcase in Estero this month. Sept 15 – 18. Damn I wish the Caps we also going to be here. Just Lightning, Panthers, Canes and Preds. Would have really liked to gotten an upfront look at guys like Miro and Sudzy. BTW, I’m going nuts with no hockey! Ugh

      • novafyre says:

        Thanks. Had not heard anything from the Bolts about it nor anything from either the Tampa press or Bolts fan sites. Wonder why all the silence. Now to see if I can fit a visit into my schedule. Next weekend. Hmmm.

  5. Dave says:

    I took a look at some numbers and it appears to be a combination of the first and third possibilities I mentioned above.

    Starting with Ovi’s first season, these are the number of teams with a PP% of 24.0% or better (stats from

    2005-2006 0
    2006-2007 0
    2007-2008 1
    2008-2009 2
    2009-2010 1
    2010-2011 1
    2011-2012 0
    2012-2013 2
    2013-2014 0
    2014-2015 1
    2015-2016 0
    2016-2017 1
    2017-2018 1

    I’d note that in the seasons where there was one or two teams at 24% or better, that was often the Caps.

    Then something happens starting with the 2018-2019 season:

    2018-2019 5
    2019-2020 4
    2020-2021 3
    2021-2022 7
    2022-2023 7

    This strikes me as a pretty significant shift. Over the last five seasons, it’s become common for several teams to score above 24.0%, something that had rarely happened before that. And over the last two seasons, over a fifth of teams have done that. So this seems in large part to be a case of the top teams in the league getting significantly better while the Caps have remained in place around the 21% to 22% range.

    There is also a fair amount of teams bunching up within a relatively narrow range. Over the last five years, the number of teams that were between 20.0% and 23.9% (i.e., a rough measure of scoring “in the low 20s”, below the 24% I was using above) was:

    2018-2019 9
    2019-2020 9
    2020-2021 9
    2021-2022 10
    2022-2023 9

    That’s close to 30% of the league being in that “low 20s%” range (the percentages vary given expansion). Given this “bunching” a small improvement could result in a significant change in ordinal placement (but without really impacting on actual success).

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      Excellent breakdown, Dave. Plenty of food for thought in this. We might need to do a piece on it, with credit to you of course.

      • Anonymous says:

        I know it would be easy to explain if there was a rule change or something changed with the game that aligns with the shift, but I can’t think what it could be.

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