Photo: Patrick Smith
The Washington Capitals had one of the best power plays in the league last season. They scored 68 goals on 278 opportunities for a 23.4 percent conversion rate, just behind Pittsburgh. They fired 85.8 unblocked shot attempts per 60 minutes on the PP, just behind San Jose. The Caps power play was deadly, but it was not perfect.
The Caps allowed ten shorthanded goals, the fourth highest total in the league. Alex Ovechkin, who played 93.2 percent of the Caps power play, fittingly, was on ice for 9 of those 10– sending his plus-minus, which is dumb and so is your face, down even further.
When we talk about things we want for the 2014-15 Capitals, ‘continued success on the power play’ is always part of it. But the Capitals should also look into what went wrong while playing a man up. Because it’s summer, and because I was worried that story about optimism might have made you unacceptably chipper, here’s a dour collection of 2013-14’s shorthanded goals and an assessment of who was to blame for each. Let’s party.
First, let’s look at how the Caps tilted the ice. Like I said above, the Caps generated shots as good as anyone in the league, but they also allowed the fourth most attempts against during the PP. That tells us that their 22nd ranked save percentage during the PP wasn’t the only problem; they really were getting caught with their pants down a bunch.
These guys were the pants-downiest.
Those stats were provided by ExtraSkater.com, which is awesome and I liked it before you even heard of it. Also worth mentioning: PPTOI is the percentage of power-play ice time the player got during games in which he appeared. The 12 games Green missed don’t count against his percentage, but Ovechkin really did play that much of the PP.
Those numbers are embarrassing for everyone involved (particularly Holtby and Green), but since there were only a handful– okay, two handfuls– of goals, I think this is a good opportunity to go one-by-one and see what happened. And then we can find out who is to blame for each.
October 12: Alex Tanguay on Michal Neuvirth
The Avs actually score on their second attack. Mike Green’s stick check sends the puck just wide of the net, where Troy Brouwer fails to beat Stastny. Stastny feeds Tanguay, who was free-range cattle after that first attempt.
Guilty party: Alex Ovechkin. That “glide” that Barry Trotz keeps talking about? You can see it right here. After crossing center ice, Ovi takes just one stride. He makes a lovely loop around the playoff dot but completely misses the guy who ends up scoring. But then again, how many goals does Ovi score on the rush every year purely because he’s the guy who’s ready to get sprung? And why do Backstrom and Green look like rubberneckers on the secondary attempt?
October 22: Bryan Little on Braden Holtby
On a drop pass from Brouwer, Mike Green wins a scramble against Andrew Ladd but fails to dump it in. Ladd and Bryan Little then mount an odd-man rush, which Green doesn’t defuse very well. Braden Holtby is square to Ladd’s initial shot, but a fortuitous bounce gives Little a layup on the rebound.
Guilty party: Mike Green. Though Troy Brouwer was a a little flat-footed once the puck went the wrong way, this one has to be on Green. He fails to put sufficient mustard on an easy pass and then plays his characteristically bad two-on-one defense– something we’ve been hounding him about all season.
November 12: Brandon Dubinsky on Braden Holtby
Green gets his stick on Letestu’s initial shot, but Troy Brouwer loses a battle along the boards with Brandon Dubinsky, who drops the needle on the 78-rpm gramophone as he waltzes to the goal mouth. Holtby doesn’t stand a chance.
Guilty party: No one. Brouwer looks to be to blame at first, but I’m not sure Dubinsky didn’t trip him behind the net. It’s still a lost board battle for 20, but there were extenuating circumstances.
November 30: Cal Clutterbuck on Braden Holtby
Mike Green, whose name in this list is already starting to irritate me, can’t wrangle a hard-around from Andrew MacDonald. The angle stinks, but it’s apparent the puck took a weird bounce on the board before the blue line. By that point Clutterbuck has momentum and Green has none. From there it’s all on Holtby, who could’ve been a bit more aggressive (and likely would have been in any other season).
Guilty party: No one. Stuff happens, I guess. It would have been great if Green managed to corral the puck or if Holtby got the big save, but we can’t expect that to happen every time.
On the flip side, check out Ovi’s spirited backcheck. There ain’t go “glide” there. It’s my opinion that Ovi’s reputation is subject to a ton of confirmation bias; we (i.e. not you, you perspicacious RMNB reader) tend to notice only the examples that fit our preconceptions.
December 27: Carl Hagelin on Philip Grubauer
The Caps got distracted on this one. Dan Girardi beats Troy Brouwer to the puck behind the Rangers net and then whacks him with an elbow. Brouwer goes down like hot laundry. Johansson gives up on the play, probably expecting a penalty that never came, as Backstrom commits to an attack just as the puck sails past him. It’s a really great pass by McDonagh.
Guilty party: John Carlson, if anyone. McDonagh’s pass was all kinds of stretchy and saucy. Carlson could have reversed the flow with a little check, but it wouldn’t have been easy. Grubauer got beat five-hole, which is always a bummer, though that was a decent backhand by Hagelin. Maybe everyone should get a pass on this one.
January 19: Ryan Callahan on Braden Holtby
Dominic Moore cross-checks Troy Brouwer at the perfect time to set this up. Callahan rushes up to take the pressure off Moore, who has a lot of space to unleash a slapper from above the circles. That shot drew John Carlson away from the play so Callahan had only to beat Dmitry Orlov, who was a step behind.
Guilty party: Alex Ovechkin. Just kidding, this was the one (1) shorthanded goal all season for which he wasn’t on the ice. Instead, Oates did something uncommon here: icing two defenders, though Orlov was playing way too low to be considered defensive. Bravo to Dima for skating as hard as he could to get back in the play, but Carlson kinda left him out to dry. Brouwer, Johansson, and Backstrom were all either below the goal line or dazed from a stick check. This one is on everybody. Seven years dungeon!
January 30: Derek MacKenzie on Braden Holtby
John Carlson gets stymied along the blue line, losing the puck to MacKenzie who has open ice between him and Holtby. Kind of a sick finishing move to boot.
Guilty party: John Carlson. This one was easy.
Once again, check out the team captain as he “glides” his way back into the defensive zone for naught. He sure earned that minus! </sarcasm>
March 2: Adam Hall on Braden Holtby
Guilty party: C’mon, dude.
April 1: Ryan Garbutt on Braden Holtby
The Caps nearly score at the beginning of the clip. As Lehtonen makes the save, Mike Green drifts towards the middle of the ice. Vernon Fiddler’s clearing attempt trots merrily past where Green would have been. Ryan Garbutt snatches it with alacrity and beats Holtby with an unimpressive backhand.
Guilty party: Let’s split it between Green and Holtby 50/50. I’m loathe to say Green was out of position since so much of the Caps’ PP formulation is about being dynamic, but the puck went precisely where we’d expect him to be. And Braden Holtby was just sorta jammed up there. That whole game stunk.
April 10: Jiri Tlusty on Braden Holtby
I mean, what even was this? Joel Ward looked like he was trying to whisper a secret to Carlson, though that secret apparently did not mention the attacker on Carlson’s blind side. That might explain why Carlson tried the rarely-seen “hey how about I just literally turn my back on this play?” move. Tlusty could not possibly have had a more wide open net. I can’t tell if this was bad communication or the team had just given up by this point in the season.
Guilty party: Adam Oates. Obviously.
This is supremely subjective, but by my count about half of the shorties the Caps surrendered last season were due to some kind of systemic failure rather than any one person. Green’s reputation and Ovechkin’s plus-minus have surely suffered, but I have a hard time ascribing those goals to personal weaknesses. To me it seems that the Caps still had an excellent power play, and the glut of shorthanded goals we saw were mostly the result of the high-risk/higher-reward formula Oates engaged and a bit of bad luck.
They soared high, and I guess they got burned by the sun a few times.
There’s a lot of things I didn’t like about the way Adam Oates coached, but the power play– shorties and all– is not among them. Even with all those goofs, the Caps power play was still the fourth most productive in the league when measured by goal differential. They definitely didn’t suck. Those goals didn’t even cost them many games; they went 5-4-1 in the games above– and a few of those were blowouts.
None of this is to excuse guys floating instead of backchecking or losing a battle for the puck in a dangerous area– Trotz will work on that stuff, but if we accept that 5-10 shorthanded goals is the risk of running a terrifically offensive power play …ain’t it worth it?