Ovi and his teammates celebrate a power play goal on Saturday. (Photo credit: Norm Hall)
The Washington Capitals have the league’s most dominant power play. Of the team’s 52 goals, 20 have come from the man advantage, a remarkable 38 percent. Alex Ovechkin, too, relies heavily on the PP. He has 13 goals this year, seven have been a man up. More than anything else, Adam Oates’s power play has rekindled Ovi’s greatness.
All this success means one thing: if you stop the Washington’s power play, you stop the Capitals.
Since Oates took over last year, the team has instituted a 1-3-1 system on the man advantage — one guy down low, three guys in the middle, and another at the point. It’s a relatively simple set up that many other teams around the league now use. Key to the success, though, is Ovechkin’s position on the half wall. When the Caps move the puck around, the opposing team collapses towards it. That leaves Ovechkin, and his amazing shot, wide open for blazing one-timer — an Ovi shot from the Ovi spot. Almost unfailingly, it works. The team has played under Oates for less than a year, but Ovi’s already won a Hart Trophy and they are leading the league in power play conversions for the second consecutive year.
So far, two teams have tried come up with a way to silence Washington’s biggest asset, with varying results. Because Ovechkin scores the majority of the goals, focusing purely on him sounds like a good idea. Just leave a dude guarding him all the time. The Avalanche played him like that in their visit to Verizon Center on October 12.
It worked. Ovi couldn’t get free and the Capitals couldn’t score. Though his teammates were sometimes left open, none of them possess Ovechkin’s ability to put points on the board. The Avs routed the Caps.
But it was a momentary bump in the road, and the power play has continued to produce against everybody else. Phoenix’s Dave Tippet, however, must’ve thought Patrick Roy was on to something. During Saturday’s game, the Coyotes shadowed Ovechkin on the power play as well.
At first it was successful, with the Capitals falling to score in the opening period. But during the second intermission, Adam Oates went back to his massive hockey brain. Using the man-on-man coverage to his advantage, Oates had Ovechkin collapse on net, playing more of an umbrella style. Lest you leave Ovi alone in front of net, this leaves the point man wide open, in this case John Carlson.
Care to guess what happened next?
“Yeah, Carly’s goal was based on that,” Oates confirmed. “It’s not that tough. You kinda expect what teams do. Hopefully you have an answer for that.”
After that, the Coyotes stopped shadowing Ovechkin.
On Sunday, the Caps faced the Avs for the second time, and once again they played Ovi man-to-man. This time, Oates didn’t have Ovi collapse towards the net. The non-adjustment, though, can be a strategy itself. Even with Ovi out of the play, a 4-on-3 still presents a great opportunity. The Caps didn’t score on their any of their power plays– their one goal was a lucky tally by Joel Ward — but Brooks Laich managed an excellent opportunity in front on the first power play, only to get robbed by Semyon Varlamov. Without a defender glued to Ovechkin, Laich might not have been open.
The Avs were particularly aggressive on Ovi. At one point in the third period, Cody McLeod turned his back to the play to face Ovechkin, before getting into a shoving match after with him after the whistle.
Despite being held scoreless Sunday, the Capitals power play is not immutable. Play them differently and they react.
Still, Oates understands the Caps cannot be a one-dimensional team.
“It gets a lot of attention,” he said of the power play. “Because of that, guys are spending a lot of energy trying to diffuse that. You can’t rely on it. I’ve said this all along. We can’t rely on our special teams. They gotta be good, but that’s not how you win games.”
Images via NHL.com or my iPhone pointed at a television.