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What’s Wrong With The Capitals Power Play & How To Fix It



Washington Capital Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson

The Washington Capitals have started the year on the entirely wrong foot, going 0-2 to open the campaign for the first time since 2013. And though there are a number of issues that need to be addressed, the biggest is glaring: the power play.

To start 2022-23, the power play has gone 0-for-9. The team missed out on four PP chances in the season opener vs. the Boston Bruins on Wednesday, and then five — including two that would have helped the Capitals even the score in the third and force OT — against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday.

So, what’s not clicking on the 5-on-4 for D.C.? Well… right now, pretty much everything.

But first things first, the same formula isn’t working, and the team doesn’t have a backup plan.

Washington’s first power-play formation sees Alex Ovechkin set up at the left point with John Carlson, who has struggled defensively through these first two games, on the right. Then up top, it’s Dylan Strome working down-low, T.J. Oshie in the bumper spot and Evgeny Kuznetsov working the half wall. On the second unit are Connor Brown, Marcus Johansson, Anthony Mantha, Dmitry Orlov and Erik Gustafsson. Top assets in Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson are not available as they recover from major surgeries.

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The same routine passes and plays get set up, with the same players in the same positions and not moving around. There are too many passes and tries to make crafty plays instead of getting the puck on net. And ultimately, this has led to interceptions, multiple clears and minimal zone time, as well as a lack of shots and grade-A opportunities, while up a man.

“Execution,” Ovechkin said. “Maybe afraid to get a simple play and get in front to find that dirty goal. We just have to fight through it. That’s a start we don’t want to have. Two losses in a row, it’s wake-up call, and we have to get better.”

First, the power play needs to stop standing still. There needs to be movement, with all of the pieces trying to get into better position. There’s too much waiting and staying stationary, and this leads to easy reads for the defense. Passing back and forth and waiting for a shooting lane isn’t ideal, and things likely won’t change unless players shift around.

Then, there’s the predictability. Of course, Ovechkin’s one-timer from the office can make it through whether someone’s expecting it or not. But the same back-and-forth passing will make it much easier for the opposition to keep an eye on when that blast may be coming.

Beyond that, there’s the “slingshot” pass, though that’s far from the problem and actually helps the team regroup and get the puck up ice. After that, there’s the set bumper play. More often than not, Washington goes with the same back-and-forth passing rather than getting pucks on goal, and this is what leads to the defense easily breaking up plays and even forcing turnovers and getting quality chances while shorthanded.

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Also, looking at the units and the depth throughout the lineup, it’s time to change things up. Mantha, who scored the season-opening goal and has had great chemistry with Strome, is a big body who can get to the front of the net and shoot the puck. Putting him on PP1 wouldn’t hurt when it comes to trying and switching things up. There’s no harm in experimentation, especially when there’s nothing to show for on the first nine power plays with the same PP1 and PP2 units. And, with Backstrom and Wilson out for quite a bit, now is the perfect time to see what works and what doesn’t while it’s still early.

Taking that into account, there needs to be some change. Less passing, more getting pucks on net and getting traffic in front. There’s too much time being wasted looking for picture-perfect plays, and with the game evolving, those plays aren’t always realistic and don’t appear quite as often as they used to.

A lot of this will also come down to assistant coach Blaine Forsythe, who is responsible for the Capitals’ power play and centers. Forsythe will have to encourage change going forward and also get the most out of his stars.

Washington will get a chance to turn things around when they take on the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday. It will be a major test as the team will look to not only capitalize and get the offense going, but also put an end to “disjointed” play, bad habits and the same struggles that have lingered to kick off a new season. And a lot of that starts at 5-on-4.