How the Caps turned around their power play


For much of the season, the Capitals have been bafflingly terrible on the power play. A team with literally the greatest power-play scorer of all time could not find the back of the net and it was costing the team games. The power play is now starting to trend in the right direction, however, and was a major factor in each of the Capitals' past two wins as the team tries to end its recent skid.

On Thursday against the Carolina Hurricanes, Washington got on the board thanks to a power-play tally from Evgeny Kuznetsov. Alex Ovechkin would add a second power-play goal in the second period in a 4-0 win. On Saturday against the Seattle Kraken, the power play was again the difference. In a 2-2 game, Conor Sheary and Ovechkin each struck on the man advantage to lead the team to the 5-2 victory.

These are the kind of goals the team just was not getting earlier in the season.

"I think we have pretty good chances previous games, but sometimes it just didn't go in," Ovechkin said. "Previous game we score big one, and today we scored two big goals."

As of Jan. 27, the Caps ranked 30th on the power play at just 13.9%. Since then, however, Washington has scored 13 power-play goals in 13 games at a rate of 30.2%. It has gone from one of the worst power plays in the league to the hottest over that stretch.

So what's changed? Personnel. No, the team hasn't shuffled its power play regulars, it just got them back.

"I think we obviously got a few bodies back in there," Sheary said. "We got [Anthony Mantha] back, we go [T.J. Oshie] back after long-term, [Nicklas Backstrom's] now finding his stride so I think we feel like we have two really good units that can work hard and use our skill to create opportunities."

“There has been a lot of turnover on the units," head coach Peter Laviolette said. "So it is nice to get people back and situated and in place and get them working and rhythm but it’s definitely had an impact."

With a player like Ovechkin, it's easy to think the personnel around him doesn't matter. Put the Great 8 with any four skaters and the unit will produce. In reality, building a top power play is much more difficult than that.

Ovechkin absolutely is the team's top power-play weapon and adds a dynamic to the man advantage that PK units don't typically have to account for as was evident on his goal Saturday.

"The second one is just off an entry we let it get over to No. 8’s side," Seattle head coach Dave Hakstol said, "That’s a spot you let a lot of people shoot from, but, obviously, he’s done it before, he can score from there.”

But a power play is a five-man unit and the Caps have not really had all of its power-play personnel available almost at all this season.

Nicklas Backstrom played three games before the new year. T.J. Oshie returned to the lineup on Feb. 24 and has played in just 22 games this season. Anthony Mantha returned Thursday after shoulder surgery kept him out since November.

Now, however, all three players are back giving the team two dangerous units it can put on the ice. With its power play finally at full-go, it looks completely transformed.

Laviolette acknowledged that the power play could have been better earlier in the season but that he never considered major changes knowing the team would improve once its injured players returned.

“The changes are from the personnel coming back in the lineup," Laviolette said.

He added, "It is about having the pieces back and having a rhythm as well and so there is definitely things we could have done better in a stretch when it’s not going and now it seems like it is a little more on point.”

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