Washington Capitals: What to do With a Powerplay Built Around Alex Ovechkin

T.J. Oshie, Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
T.J. Oshie, Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports /

The Washington Capitals have Alex Ovechkin on their team and that means that an elite power play is not a luxury: it’s an expectation. The DC faithful expect the Capitals to score on every man-advantage. With Alex Ovechkin, John Carlson, TJ Oshie, and Nicklas Backstrom on your top unit, you can see why.

By many metrics, the Capitals have had an elite power play for the better part of a decade. But when you dig a little bit deeper, Blaine Forsythe, the assistant coach responsible for the power play, needs to tweak this unit. We’ve looked at what Peter Laviolette should do with his line combinations and his penalty killing unit, now it’s time to see what the Caps’ coaching staff can do to keep the Capitals’ man-advantage humming at an elite-level.

The 2020-2021 Capitals power play finished the season at 24.8 percent, good for third best in the NHL. So what’s the problem? For one, a league-leading 8 short-handed goals against allowed. Secondly, when you look back to 2019-2020, the Caps’ power play was only 19.4 percent effective, which was in the bottom half of the league. That year, the Caps gave up 9 short-handed goals against, which was the fifth-most in the NHL.

The Capitals’ unit is one of the most talented in the NHL. Alex Ovechkin, the world’s best goal scorer, is out for almost the entire penalty in “his office”, an elite power play quarterback in John Carlson is up top, TJ Oshie in the bumper position, and the slick hands of Nicklas Backstrom on the half-wall. Evgeny Kuznetsov is often times down-low. However you slice it, this unit is talented and predictable. It’s become a glaring problem. There is now a clear trend of teams scoring short-handed against the Caps. It needs to end and it needs to end this season.

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The Capitals’ power play goes through stretches during the season where it often sucks energy out of the building and ruins the pace of the game. What should tilt the ice in their favor, often times does the opposite. The Caps have trouble gaining entry to the offensive-zone, but the real problem is how predictable this unit has become even when they do get set-up.

Predictability is the reason teams can score short-handed against the Caps with regularity and ultimately why the Caps power play struggles through large stretches of the season. Obviously, Alex Ovechkin will and should continue to be the focus of the man-advantage. Ovechkin is a once-in-a-generation talent; he’s not the problem. The problem is that any one of you, sitting at home, knows what the Caps are going to do. There is no secret here. However, there are two tweaks that Blaine Forsythe can make that will once again make this unit deadly.

First, and most controversial, would be to put Daniel Sprong on the top power-play unit. Putting someone like Sprong, who has a deadly shot, opposite Ovechkin on the power play gives the Capitals a real shooting threat from the opposite side of the ice. This will force the opposition to respect both sides of the ice and will not only open up Ovechkin a bit, but will give TJ Oshie more room in his bumper position.

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The second would be to allow and encourage John Carlson and Alex Ovechkin the flexibility to interchange more freely. When Carlson and Ovechkin are in-motion, it forces the penalty killers into motion and that’s when the Capitals can pounce. No longer will Ovechkin simply stand at the left-circle. Ovechkin could be up-top, he could be down-low below the left-circle, or he may be in “his office”. Either way, he isn’t stationary and neither are the other four players on the ice with him. This will allow the Capitals’ elite playmakers the ability to break down the opposition. The Caps will have an easier time gaining entry into the zone against a tired group of killers and once in the zone, they will get more good looks and ultimately will score more goals.