Over the past month and a half, inconsistency and frustration have risen at both ends of the ice for the Washington Capitals. The team has lost more games than it has won, and it’s clear the Capitals power play needs a lot of work. The players know there’s a problem, and are turning to each other to fix it.
“I feel like it’s always something, right?” center Evgeny Kuznetsov said on Feb. 2, after an 0-for-3 performance on the power play proved costly in a 5-3 loss to the Edmonton Oilers. “I feel like we are playing for each other. We try to do right things and sometimes it doesn’t go well.”
Through the better part of the last decade, the Capitals’ power play was among the most dominant units in the league. Since 2012-13, the team’s success at 5-on-4 has ranked in the top-10 league-wide for all but two seasons. And last year, Washington’s man advantage was operating at 24.84 percent, the third-highest in the NHL. Alex Ovechkin just recently broke the NHL’s all-time power play goals record, and his shot from his “office” in the left circle has left teams stunned for years, even when they know it’s coming.
But there’s been a significant drop this year. The Capitals’ power play percentage of 15.3 ranks as the fourth-worst in the league, and over their last 10 games, they are just 4-for-30 on the power play. Beyond the numbers, the on-ice play is visibly out of sync. The team is struggling to get the puck on net and get shots away. Passes aren’t going through. And a lot of the time, the Caps find themselves losing possession and chasing the puck back down the ice before having to start the rush back up over again.
It doesn’t help that the team is missing T.J. Oshie and Anthony Mantha, two players who can provide a spark on the man advantage with a strong net-front presence and great offensive acumen. In the meantime, the team has turned to Conor Sheary to help with puck retrieval and Tom Wilson, who fills in for Oshie in the “bumper” spot in front of the net.
“They’re big shoes to fill in our lineup,” Sheary said of Oshie and Mantha on Feb. 9, adding, “[They bring] things that we’re dying for in our lineup right now. And if we can get them back sooner rather than later, it will definitely help us.”
Center Lars Eller said fixing the problem requires earning those chances and bounces. And that means bringing motion and getting pucks on net, and making changes rather than waiting for the chips to fall.
“You have to earn that luck. It’s not gonna just come,” Eller explained. “We got to do a little bit more and then when you do those things, then all of the sudden, the bounces come and you’re on the right side, and a little bit of luck comes. But you have to earn it, and we have to work a little bit harder.”
Nic Dowd added that the team also needs to get back to its winning culture and dominant style of play, whether that be on the power play, penalty kill, or at 5-on-5. And to do that, each player needs to step up their individual performance.
“I think we just all individually need to play better as well, I think that falls down to each player, including myself,” Dowd said after the 5-4 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday, where the power play went 1-for-4. “I think we all have to play better and I think that will help us find our identity. Our team is such full of role players that we know what our identities are, and we just need to consistently … get back to that and continue to work hard. That is the only way it is going to come in my opinion.”
Most importantly, the team needs to find a way to execute, rather than just get chances on net. Something needs to fall, and whether that means changing the game plan or creating new plays, Washington knows there has to be an answer and response, especially as the team looks to escape wild card territory and climb back up the standings.
“We got to score, right?” Kuznetsov said before the All-Star Break. “You know, not just one game. Consistency. I believe in our group … They have a great plan for us. And sometimes we just, you know, did not execute. We got to play better for sure. We do care about it, we do worry about that … And you know, it’s frustrating a bit. But at the same time, you can use it as a challenge.”