Powerless power play. Re-position Ovechkin.

The Capitals appear to be back on track.  They are 5-0-2 in their last seven games.  We all witnessed this team at its lowest point in years on HBO’s 24/7.  The eight game slide the Caps endured really shook the team’s confidence and surely left them wondering if they’d ever win another game.  But all streaks, whether good or bad, come to an end.  Bruce Boudreau is implementing a trap system for the first time in his coaching career, and Semyon Varlamov is channeling his inner Dominik Hasek.  Varly is casting himself as the team’s number one netminder.  Since the 7-0 drubbing at Madison Square Garden, Varly is 3-0-2 with a .961 save percentage.  Toss in a victory in the Winter Classic over the hated Penguins and you have yourself a goalie angling himself to grab the number one spot.  It is certainly his to lose.

 But not all things are rosy in D.C.  Have you watched the Capitals’ power play lately?  If you’re not a regular to Verizon Center, or a Capitals television broadcast, please avert your eyes.  It is a tortuous event to endure.  The power play has no power at all.  The power play is so bad that the cast of characters I typically banter back and forth with during games jokingly wish the NFL option of declining penalties existed in the NHL.  Then I have to remind them that the Caps aren’t exactly scoring goals at even strength either.

 The Capitals began the season slow on the power play.  Something that is not unfamiliar to Caps’ fans.  A slow start to the season is hardly out of the ordinary.  Through the end of October and the month of November, the power play looked far more ordinary.  An effective rate of 24% is something us Caps fans were far more accustomed to seeing.  After all, the Caps finished number one in power play effectiveness a season ago, over 25%.

 But since December 1, the bottom has completely fallen out.  Since December 1, the Capitals have had 63 opportunities with a man advantage, and just seven goals – a robust 11%.  They have zero goals in their last six opportunities with a two-man advantage.

 To go even further into the realm of things unexplainable is Alex Ovechkin’s power play production.  Through his first four seasons in the NHL, there was no scarier power play force than Ovechkin.  This year, Ovechkin has just two power play goals, both of which occurred in the same game.  Ovechkin hasn’t scored a power play at Verizon Center in nine months; truly mind boggling.

 With the power play stalling as of late, its time for some changes.  Not necessarily personnel changes, but scheme changes.  For one, Ovechkin has been a mainstay on the point since Boudreau became the coach.  It’s time to move Ovechkin from the point, and place him down low in front of the net for a couple reasons. 

 One, you can argue whether or not Ovechkin has the most lethal shot in the NHL.  What you can’t argue is that he isn’t in that discussion.  So I must ask why placing Ovechkin in a position to shoot from 60 feet away makes more sense than positioning him in a place to shoot from 10 to 15 feet away?  It would make much more sense to position Ovechkin similar to the way Steven Stamkos and Sidney Crosby are positioned.  Stamkos makes a living at the left circle where he can unleash his wicked one-timer.  Crosby scores countless goals on deflections and rebound tap-ins.  Crosby builds his house around the net, and his goal totals reflect that.

 Two, Ovechkin is in a goal funk like we have never seen.  He has just 14 goals thus far and is no longer on pace for a 30 goal season.  There are multiple theories in place as to why Ovechkin’s production is down.  I find the theory that opposing defenders have adjusted their game to Ovechkin, and Ovechkin is yet make that adjustment himself the most believable.  A perfect adjustment would be to put Ovechkin in a position to get the non-highlight reel goals.  Sometimes players have to sacrifice their bodies by going to the high traffic areas to get their goals.  Ovechkin is always amongst the biggest guys on the ice.  He should be setting screens, boxing out opposing defenders, and scoring the ugly goals.  This doesn’t mean Ovechkin won’t be able to utilize his lethal shot.  Placing Ovechkin down low still gives him some freedom to find open space, most notably right in the slot centered perfectly inside the penalty killer’s box formation.  Not only does Ovechkin have to make the necessary adjustments to combat the adjustment the opposition has made in defending him, but Boudreau also has the responsibility to put his top scorer in the best position to score.  Ovechkin toiling on the blueline is hardly that. 

 John Carlson has proved he is more than capable of playing the point along with Mike Green.  Both Green and Carlson have great shots from the point.  This would have a two-pronged affect.  You don’t sacrifice the offensive output because Ovechkin is still on the ice, and both Green and Carlson are offensive-minded defenseman.  Secondly, how often have we seen Ovechkin break his stick on a shot attempt, then been left out to dry on a short-handed attempt?  Having Carlson and Green on the point, you are at least assured of a defenseman being the lone man back to defend against a short-handed break.  I’ll take my chances with Green or Carlson defending a short-handed two-on-one chance.

 Make the move Boudreau.  The power play has skidded to halt.  Something needs to be done to get the engine going again, and to give your star the best opportunity to score.

Follow me on Twitter: @JCScriven

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About the Author: Jeremy is a life time hockey fan currently living in Washington DC. Jeremy also runs a Capitals blog called The Nation's Capitals where he frequently posts blogs about the state of the Caps. His other interests include music and politics. Jeremy has a degree in Political Science. Being from DC, politics kind of comes with the territory.

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  1. Kevin G says:

    Kevin G likes everything said here.

    Kevin G also wonders what is up with all the cutesy passing. Shouldn’t the PP just be a volume of shots?

    • Jeremy Scriven says:

      Yes, you want a volume of shots but not to the point where your no longer controlling the puck. Just shooting from anywhere can lead to easy clears by the PK because you know longer have control of the puck. Caps need to find that happy medium of good puck control and shots on net. So far, they have neither.

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  3. Trevor says:

    Ovechkin has spent time in the Stamkos on the power play before… it’s the first spot any coach would put him. But teams adjust and create what amounts to a triangle-plus-1 and minimize him, which is harder to do with Stamkos because St Louis and Lecavalier create more space for him. So Boudreau wheels him to the top, where he can at least get space to let fly, albeit from 60+ feet as you say.

    I think the big answer, given the skill guys the Caps have, is to put 2 guys in front of the net, which works in conjunction with your idea of putting Ovechkin down low. Two guys in front create more space and passing lanes, and force at least 1 penalty killer to work much harder than the Caps are making them work now. Green, Backstrom, and Carlson/Semin should be able to take advantage of that for better looks, and Ovechkin can find space while the other net presence (Knuble? Laich?) preoccupies a defenseman.

    Either way, Boudreau HAS to do something….this is a much bigger test as a coach than trying to install some modified trap.

  4. Fred Poulin says:

    Ovechkin is way too stationary on the offensive zone so he is easy to check or block. He was to go down low and circle the puck more with Backstrom before sending the puck to the blue line to Carlson or Green before heading to the net for a rebound or a deflection.

  5. IRockRed says:

    3. Put Ovie low
    2. Get him to move his feet and bang bodies more again.
    1. Cut-off Mama-O’s home cookin’ and get him to loose 15 pounds. One of his biggest strengths the last 2 season’s was his explosive first stride to get open. It is gone, and D can play, and stay, tight on him. This is only going to get worse as he gets older. Just check out his Dad’s profile.