By Reed S. Albers
Dave Nichols calls it the “Power Play of Doom.”
The District Sports Page editor-in-chief created the hash tag for his Twitter posts during the previous season’s special teams outage versus the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Caps went 2 for 19 with the man advantage against the Bolts.
Throughout the early goings of the 2011-12 season, Nichols has had plenty of reason to continue dropping #PPofDoom in his Twitter posts.
The Caps’ power play always seemed doomed to failure as the two minute “advantage” rarely yielded a positive result. Sometimes, a positive result was simply setting up in the offensive zone and on other nights, it was managing a shot on net.
If you’re still not convinced the hash tag is appropriate, consider that from Oct. 27 to Dec. 5, the Caps scored only seven power play goals on 66 extra-man opportunities.
That’s a 10.6 percent conversion rate which would rank the Caps dead last in the NHL for power play percentage if placed on the leaderboard today (Montreal owns the league’s worst power play, with a 12.8 percent conversion rate).
But as of late, the power play has been less of a bane and more a boon.
The Caps are winning again and unsurprisingly it’s the special teams units that are powering the team’s wins.
During the team’s current four game win streak, the Caps have scored four power play goals on six chances.
Washington’s power play surge has shot them back up the power play standings, ranking the team as the ninth best extra-man unit and the scoring has seemingly broken Alex Ovechkin out of his season-long sleepwalk.
Ovechkin is on a three-game goal-scoring streak with a power play goal in each of those games. His 17 goals leads the team and if his pace of play continues, he could be back in the top 10 goal scoring leaders by the NHL All-Star break.
So how has the Capitals power play gone from doomed to incandescent?
The changes in result have been major, but by design its minor details that were reworked.
Washington’s extra man plan has changed from a static “pass and look” attack to a fluid “pass, move, then shoot” attack that is creating offensive chances once again.
A good example of the Caps’ new power play attack could be seen in Tuesday night’s 3-1 win over the Calgary Flames.
An Ovechkin pass from the point eventually found Marcus Johansson and instead of standing still and waiting for a one-timer to come to him, Ovechkin slid to the open ice and blasted in a cross-ice pass behind goalie Miikka Kiprusoff.
During the #PPofDoom days, Ovechkin would have telegraphed his shot for the whole world to see instead of making use of the open ice.
Another power play goal against the Flames displayed some of the extra-man unit’s versatility.
Troy Brouwer set up in front of Kiprusoff and scored a “garbage” goal with his body (mainly his butt) in the goalie’s face for the entirety of the sequence. As Kiprusoff begged for a goaltender interference call, the Caps skated away with a 2-0 lead fueled entirely by the power play.
The past three games is hardly a large enough sample size to declare the power play is back for good. Calgary, Columbus and Buffalo aren’t Stanley Cup contending teams and a three game streak of no power play goals is entirely possible.
But as the team finally finds consistency in net, on defense and in their level of play each night, it’s promising to see the power play tagging along behind those elements.
The power play may still need time to be elite again, but at least it doesn’t look so damned doomed anymore.