WASHINGTON, D.C. — When asked about the Washington Capitals’ play on the man advantage, Evgeny Kuznetsov stayed optimistic, but did acknowledge the main issue: it’s not converting.
Since netting three power-play goals in their season opener, the Capitals’ power play is 0-for-15 over its last five games. Their 14.3 percent success at 5-on-4 is the eighth-lowest in the NHL to open the campaign, and they’ve also surrendered two shorthanded goals so far.
Despite the lack of red lights at 5-on-4, the chances are still there. Washington has managed 27 shots on the man advantage through six games and has a scoring-chances for percentage of 83.33 percent. In fact, Alex Ovechkin said to start the season that he liked the work that the power play was putting in.
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However, the issue, as Kuznetsov pointed out, comes down to execution. At times, the team is struggling to keep the puck in the zone on the man advantage and at times, the Capitals find themselves backchecking while having the extra man on the ice. Despite getting a number of looks, turnovers and missed passes have led to missed opportunities.
In turn, head coach Peter Laviolette is taking a look at the unit and trying to make some changes. Against the Flames, he switched out Anthony Mantha with Conor Sheary and also had Justin Schultz out on PP1 instead of John Carlson.
Laviolette said the reason that Sheary is there is to help with puck retrieval and playmaking. However, the tweaks won’t end there.
“He’s tenacious on the puck, he’s competing hard to turn over pucks and come up with pucks. He’s skilled enough to make plays and so, in the same sense, we’re not going to leave it alone, either. We’ll try different pieces.”
Despite the team’s struggles on the man advantage, the Capitals are making the most of their opportunities elsewhere. They’re getting outstanding play and offense at even strength, especially from the top line of Ovechkin, Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson. Ovechkin’s seven goals lead the NHL, and Wilson’s seven helpers are tied for first overall. That trio has been generating a lot of pressure and chances in the offensive zone. Washington’s 21 goals-for at 5-on-5 ranks first in the NHL (tied with Florida), and all seven goals against Ottawa on Tuesday came at 5-on-5.
“Everything had been tight from a 5-on-5 standpoint… you do the things in practice and you do them in exhibition games and you do them to start the regular season, you like to see that. The confidence sometimes can go up once you see that now you can go back and say, ‘See, if we do these things, we can have sustained offense.'”
Still, Washington knows that it’ll have to find a spark on the man advantage, especially if they want to keep the momentum going after a 4-0-2 start. They face the Detroit Red Wings, who have the ninth-worst penalty-kill percentage in the league (76 percent) so far, on Wednesday.
For Kuznetsov, it all starts with chemistry and trust. And from there, he believes good things will come.
“We have to still work and still believe in each other,” Kuznetsov said. “It’s always easy to look for the excuses and find the guy, you know, ‘that guy sucks,’ but we play as a one unit. Sometimes you need those type of games to get better. Personally, I like those moments, that’s how we can get better. That’s how we can learn. That’s how we get close to each other.”