Photo: Patrick Smith
The Caps are bad at defense and give up a lot of odd-man breaks. Even when they win, Washington can’t hide that flaw. One aspect of that is particularly troubling: the amount of rushes they allow on their own power play.
The Capitals man-advantage has kept them afloat all year, generating about a third of their offense. However, against the Stars their PP could barely get going. Dallas had two breakaways on Washington’s opening power play, which was quickly negated by a John Carlson slash.
“Usually odd-man rushes are our breakdowns, not necessarily great plays by them,” Carlson said after the game. “We can’t let that happen. We’re too good of players.”
So why is the league’s number one power play so bad at getting the puck out of the zone?
The Caps use a diamond-shaped 1-3-1 formulation, with only one defenseman playing in back. It’s an aggressive system, and the Capitals have struggled at times to get the puck through neutral and out of the defensive zone. When they have reached the offensive zone, an audacious move by the defenseman or by Alex Ovechkin or Nicklas Backstrom along the halfboards leaves the Caps without a fallback. When somebody makes a bad pass, there’s not much to stop the puck from going the wrong way.
“You have no speed, and they’re coming at you full speed, so it’s a really difficult play there,” Eric Fehr told me, before adding that the team shouldn’t make stretch passes when they aren’t there. When they’re in the offensive zone, they should back off rather than try to force a play.
“Maybe try to regroup, pull out, and try to go back in,” Fehr said when asked for a solution. “It’s not a fun thing to do on the power play, but I think sometimes you just gotta cut your loses and take it from there.”
Karl Alzner agreed.
“You want to make the nice play to spark the team, to get a goal or to make the nice pass to break us out,” Alzner said. “Very few teams can do that; it’s about playing simple, and it’s not always fun to play that way, and we sure haven’t helped ourselves by us all being irresponsible on the ice with the puck in all three zones. We’ve got to be smarter and we’ve got to make simple plays.”
Let’s look at what happened tonight.
8:39 into the game, the Capitals earned their first power play of the night after Eric Fehr drew a holding penalty on Trevor Daley. Thirty-two error-riddle seconds later, it ended in humiliating fashion.
First, Nicklas Backstrom won the offensive zone draw. So far, so good. Alex Ovechkin skated over to the boards to corral the puck but was unable. Not so good. Then, John Carlson — the only Caps defenseman on the ice — pinched, trying to keep the puck in the zone. Bad, bad, bad. Former Caps center prospect Cody Eakin poked the puck by Carly and raced in alone on Jaroslav Halak on a breakaway. A hustling Marcus Johansson, Carlson’s cover, was caught flat-footed and could not recover. Lucky for the Caps, Eakin didn’t record a shot on goal.
On their next rush up ice, the Caps weren’t so lucky. Carlson gained the blue line and then passed to Nicklas Backstrom. As Backstrom tried to return a pass to Carlson, he telegraphed, allowing Ryan Garbutt to pick it off. Garbutt cut loose on a breakaway and eventually got hooked by Carlson. Caps power play over.
The Caps did not record a shot on that power play. They surrendered two straight prime opportunities. How does that happen?
Meanwhile, in the third period, the Caps got another man advantage and squandered it again. After Troy Brouwer missed on a shot right in front of the net, the Stars cleared. Mike Green got caught looking and got out-hustled to the puck by a speedy Ryan Garbutt. Garbutt scored on Holtby, five-hole.
The Capitals gave up three breakaways on the power play. They surrendered a shotrhanded goal once and committed two penalties.
This isn’t a question of a flawed system or poor play. It’s both. While the team has scored 64 power play goals, they’ve also given up the fifth most short-handed goals against. Sometimes it bites them. Tuesday was one of those times.
“We make [the] easiest mistakes, we turn puck over in our zone, neutral zone,” Ovechkin said. “It cost us the game.”
“I don’t know what to say,” he added.
Photo: Patrick Smith
Additional reporting and GIFs by Ian Oland.