That’s a headline that will probably confuse and shock a lot of Washington Capitals fans.
It’s definitely something that hasn’t happened a lot since the Alex Ovechkin era started. Since his debut season in 2005-06 the Capitals have the second best power play in the NHL at 20.7%. That’s a tiny tick behind the San Jose Sharks league best 20.8% since the 2005-06 season. It’s above the Pittsburgh Penguins 20.2% which is third best since then.
This season, as a whole, the power play is pretty close to that 20.7% number. It’s currently 20.3% which is 14th best in the league. Hardly the worst the NHL has to offer. That’s top half of the league, not bad. When we split the season in half however we see the Capitals power play has hit a pretty big skid.
It started the season good, as you would expect from this team. In the first twenty-eight games of the season it was clicking at a 25.3% rate. In their first eighty-seven attempts the Caps scored twenty-two power play goals. At that time, that was the fifth best in the league.
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In the last twenty-eight games however this team has not been good with the man advantage. Since December 3rd the Caps have had ninety-two power play opportunities and have cashed in on just fifteen of them. That means they are hitting on 15.8% of their chances. Out of the thirty-one teams in the NHL that ranks twenty-ninth.
It’s funny the way hockey works though. When the Capitals power play was going good it was generating 3.78 chances per game. Now that it’s not converting as well as it previously had it’s creating 4.32 chances a game.
The high danger attempts are a bit down. When things were going well it had 1.78 chances a game compared to now where it has 1.64 chances a game. Slightly down, but down nonetheless.
A big reason the power play is struggling is the finishing hasn’t been as good. To start the season the shooting percentage was at 17.89%. That was 5th best in the league. Now it’s dropped all the way to 10.87% which is the third worst in the NHL since the 3rd of December.
The Capitals have had 138 power play shots since December 3rd and had 123 shots before the third. The obvious should be pointed out, Washington has had eight more power play opportunities than before the third so the numbers will be a little off but nothing major.
So what’s going on here? Is this just an aberration? Is it just struggling and it will rebound later? Possibly, Special teams will jump up and down throughout a season, but this is a long stretch here.
What are the issues? Well we’ve already pointed out the team having the third worst shooting percentage on the man advantage for half of the season. If they want to bring up the power play percentage they’re going to have to be more clinical in their finishing.
They could also use more chances. Currently the Caps have 221 chances while on the power play, that ranks 21st in the league. That unfortunately is a trend for the Capitals. In the last five or six years the Capitals have not really been an “elite” team when it comes to scoring chances while on the power play.
Last season they had 310 chances which ranked 22nd and the year before that they had only 290 chances which was 30th. The three years before that they ranked 16th, 10th and 14th respectively. Good, but not elite.
It’s odd and kind of inexcusable how a power play that consists of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson, T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov can be this bad for this extended amount of time.
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The good news is the Capitals have been able to score 5v5 pretty much all season. As long as you can get the job done at 5v5 the power play becomes a luxury not a necessity. I’ll always make the case the penalty kill is more important than the power play, even more so if your team can get the job done at full and even strength.
Still, the power play can be huge and a big advantage in the playoffs. Right now the only thing it will have going for it is the threat that the names on it carry. We’ve seen bad power play teams win the Stanley Cup in recent years. The Capitals will still want to raise that 15.3% power play before the playoffs start..