NHL-leading Capitals aim to end troubling power-play drought
Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8), of Russia, celebrates his goal with teammate Dmitry Orlov (9), also of Russia, and others during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
WASHINGTON (AP) The Capitals are winners of three in a row and sitting pretty atop the NHL, so not much seems to be going wrong for Washington. They do however have one glaring problem – power-play goals – and it is something coach Barry Trotz hopes to fix sooner rather than later.
Washington is 0 for their last 17 and haven't scored a power-play goal since Jan. 19 after consistently being the league's top power-play team the past several seasons.
The five-game drought hasn't cost them in the standings, but after a similar stretch haunted them in last year's playoffs, so it's worth significant attention in the coming days and weeks.
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''Sometimes we can be very stubborn and say, `Our power play will work against everybody,' but we do make lots of adjustments,'' Trotz said after the Capitals beat the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday. ''If there's a trend, then we better fix it before the playoffs because to me if we don't fix it before the playoffs, you're almost in a situation where it's too late.''
The Capitals went 0 for 13 in Games 2 through 7 of their second-round playoff series against the New York Rangers last spring.
A lack of power-play goals wasn't the only reason for blowing a 3-1 series lead, and this five-game drought isn't cause for alarm just yet. The Capitals still (barely) have the league's top unit with a 24.2 percent success rate, but more importantly they have a four-point lead over the Chicago Blackhawks in the Presidents' Trophy race and have played five fewer games.
But as Washington goes on the road to face the Nashville Predators, Minnesota Wild and Dallas Stars this week, getting the power play back on track is a major focus. It's not necessarily about getting rid of the goose egg in the goal column as much as fixing what's contributing to the problem.
''We believe as long as we are getting zone time, we're getting shots, we have some of the key elements of our power play, that results are going to come,'' power-play point man Matt Niskanen said. ''Some of those areas have been lacking lately, so that's what we'll try to fix. I don't think you get too caught up in the results. You focus on the process and things like your breakout, your zone entries, your recoveries, net presence, execution – all those things. If we concentrate on those things, the results will come.''
Trotz blamed poor puck retrievals and execution for the power-play struggles. It doesn't help that forward Marcus Johansson has missed four games with an upper-body injury, but with offensively-potent Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson in the lineup that shouldn't be such a debilitating loss.
''We have some good people, so that's not really an excuse,'' Trotz said. ''Marcus is very good on the power play, but so is Kuznetsov and Burakovsky and (Jason Chimera) does a good job in Marcus' sort of spot. I don't think that's as big a deal.''
Not having Ovechkin when he was suspended against the Florida Panthers took away the power. Ovechkin's one-timer from the left faceoff circle is one of the most unstoppable shots in hockey, even though defenders and goaltenders know it's coming.
Ovechkin has been back for the past three games, and Washington hasn't been able to get into much of a rhythm. Sunday against Philadelphia, one power play was rife with turnovers and even an icing.
Without a power-play goal once again, it was up to the Capitals' penalty kill to get the job done. That unit is 8 for its past 9, and the pressure is higher on the penalty kill when the power play isn't clicking.
''The power play has been (ranked) 1, 2 or 3 in the league for a ton of years in a row now and the PK hasn't, so we always feel like we're catching up to the power play,'' defenseman Karl Alzner said. ''We want to pull our own weight, and so when things aren't going, you have to win the special teams war in a different way, and PK is the way it needs to be done.''