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.

Ovechkin 9  389.6  93.2%
Holtby 8 247.4  n/a
Backstrom 7  297.6  66.5%
Green 6  191.0  50.5%
Johansson 4  240.1  54.0%
Carlson 4 256.6  57.3%

Those stats were provided by, 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

lol Ovi

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?

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  • Tadd

    Thanks Peter! This huge article is gonna save my night!

  • Hayes

    Doesn’t the PP and PK not count towards plus minus????

  • A pp goal? No. A power play unit gives up a short-handed goal? Yes.

    It’s confusing, I know. Via Wikipedia:

    “In ice hockey, [plus-minus] measures a player’s goal differential. With the exclusion of power play and penalty shot goals, when an even-strength or shorthanded goal is scored, the plus–minus statistic is increased by one (“plus”) for those players on the ice for the team scoring the goal; the plus–minus statistic is decreased by one (“minus”) for those players on the ice for the team allowing the goal.[1] Whether or not the net is empty does not matter for purposes of plus–minus.”

  • Steven Lemmeyer
  • Peter

    This article is the best example I’ve seen in a long time of the idea that “the stats don’t tell the whole story”

  • Jeff

    Not to pile on, but I would put the Dubinsky one on Green as well.

  • Graham Dumas

    Stats tell some of the story: I just got into an argument with a Pens fan about Ovi’s “negative PDO.” Apparently Ovi almost led the league this year in “negative PDO.” So, although claiming to drop much knowledge, that superfan’s use of stats certainly told a story of deficiencies with the offense. Trouble was, the deficiencies weren’t where he claimed they were…

    Moral: know what you’re talking about before you open your gigantic yap, you ridiculous connoisseur of flightless fish-birds.

  • John

    Oates always has that “I just swallowed my tongue” look

  • Graham Dumas

    Truest. Story. Ever.

  • Jon Snow

    The first one was definitely Neuvys fault. I mean come on.

  • Matthew Kory

    So… Garbutt.

  • iwearstripes

    Some of these are obviously brutal, but there is also a risk/reward component here. The 1-3-1 power play creates tons of offensive opportunities, but it leaves you vulnerable if you lose possession of the puck. You only have one defenseman back, so if that player over-commits and/or mishandles the puck, there’s a good chance the other team is coming on an odd-man rush. As soon as the puck is turned over, the other four Caps are already two strides or more behind the odd-man rush.

    From what I’ve seen, Carlson plays a bit more conservatively at the point than Green does, but Green does a better job teeing up the one-timer for Ovi.

  • Barrett

    1st video breakdown : yes, Ovechkin did his trademark glide, but he’s not the one at fault. Backstrom went behind the net leaving the goal scorer out front to get a shot. Neuvirth has to make that save.
    2nd video breakdown : No mention of Nicklas Backstrom turning the puck over at the blueline to three Jets players putting Green in a 2v1. how about, get the puck in deep?
    3rd video breakdown : How is this not Brouwer’s fault? A guy takes the puck from you and the explanation is “extenuating circumstances”? Yeah, it’s called a lost board battle, which you mentioned and still failed to place blame.
    4th video breakdown : you got the breakdown correct, but still didn’t place blame to a player. If Green is going to pinch over he has to keep the puck in the zone or risk an odd-man rush. it’s a product of the 1-3-1 power play formation and Green not making the play.
    5th video breakdown: Yup, that’s on Carlson. Can’t let Hagelin get behind you at the red line.

    6th video breakdown: Carlson wasn’t on the ice here. That’s Mike Green and Orlov. Hard to tell how the initial turnover happened in the offensive zone, but Green actually played that well, forcing the shot. Orlov hustled back and had position on Callahan but didn’t maintain it or cancel out his stick. I’d blame Orlov, take your man out of the play.
    7th video breakdown: Yes, Carlson again. Man, his name keeps coming up as the reason short handed goals happen….
    8th video breakdown: Yes, Ovechkin. Really, though….watch as THREE Capitals players (Carlson, Backstrom and Johansson) all close in on Coutourier leaving Hall and Coburn in the slot and only Ovechkin there to defend. Props to the kick-save attempt? Maybe? haha
    9th video breakdown: Very similar to the 4th video, only Green doesn’t come close to making it over to the boards. Doesn’t help he got into a foot race with one of the fastest skaters in the league. Sure, Green is at fault for sinking down into the slot, but it was 4-0 with 5 mins in the 3rd period.
    10th video breakdown: I’m blaming Joel Ward. That was just terrible back-checking. John Carlson looked surprised Ward chased the puck carrier and then got lost when Staal passed it.

    I wish there was 10-15 seconds more on a handful of these videos. Most people like to blame the defender (Green or Carlson usually) in the 2v1 situations because they don’t make huge defensive plays. There’s a reason its a 2v1 and if the attacking team scores it usually isn’t the defenders fault. They are supposed to score on odd-man rushes. It would be interesting to see what the Capitals actually did to put themselves in some of these situations.

  • Barrett

    Really? Orlov had position on him, but got outworked for the lose puck after the save by Holtby. What was Green supposed to do?

  • Shaun Phillips

    No crap. No way a shot from that angle should get by.

  • Sarah

    I’m not sure why the first thing that came to mind after I read this was “The Raven,” except for Peter’s joke about being all dark and pessimistic, and the fact that my friend’s cockatoo used me extensively as a perch last night. I have the claw marks on my arms to prove it. So… yeah, birds, nebulous sympathy for Oates, summer boredom, and my propensity for screwing up poems.

    Once upon a day quite cheery, while I pondered, slightly bleary,
    Over YouTube and ExtraSkater’s chronicles of hockey lore—
    While I nodded, eyes a-wiping, suddenly there came a piping,
    As of someone madly typing, sniping at Adam Oates galore.
    “Just somebody typing,” I thought, “typing what they’ve typed before—
    Only this and nothing more.”

    I know it’s a giant bummer: there’s no hockey in the summer;
    Other subjects all are dumber, and ‘13-‘14 was a bore.
    Eagerly I wished the season;—vainly had I sought to reason,
    In the face of open treason, that the Caps might win once more;
    For I wished to know what tactics Barry Trotz might have in store—
    Only this and nothing more.

    Though I am a modest thinker, I know last year was a stinker.
    “Still,” said I, “my fellows, truly your forgiveness I implore;
    But the fact is I was happy, and by now I think it’s crappy
    Ripping on the Oatesy when he’s already been shown the door
    At least, unless he pulls another stunt that hurts the Caps some more.
    Didn’t we do that before?”

    The next verse was going to be about saying oh what the hell and going to Chipotle, but I couldn’t think of enough rhymes for “chipotle,” “burrito,” or “guacamole.” And it’s a nice day out, and my short attention span is getting the best of me.
    Anybody else want Chipotle?

  • That Orlov one – that’s a rookie mistake. He thinks he has him, but he’s in a passive position and just gets out-worked and out-muscled to the puck. His ceiling is very high, but every young defender has to go through those types of growing pains. I guarantee it doesn’t happen again.

  • Amykins

    Um, this is awesome.

  • cherry

    haha I typed up my assessments went to post and found that we are close with our breakdowns! I think except the last one.. nice.

    1st SHG – As much as I want to point out the coasting, the goalie needs to stop that.

    2nd SHG – There are many small contributing things. Backstroms turn over, Green getting too careless with the puck not taking away the rebound chance. There was potential for Ovi to make a difference, if he kept striding.

    3rd SHG – Agree Brouwer should have been stronger on the puck. Just got worked on the boards. Good effort by Dubinsky

    4th SHG – System at fault. If anything, players need to recognize the play is going to transition out of the Ozone quickly so keep your feet moving when the puck is moving towards the blueline. If you are not striding you are going to be a step behind.

    5th SHG – Good pass by McDonagh. If anything Carlson should have read the speed Haglin was building and moved to get in position. Don’t worry about the puck, play the man, stay closer to your opponent and he would be a less attractive pass target to the passer.

    6th SHG – Simple – Orlov hustled back in to good D position but then quickly gave it back.

    7th SHG – Normal D pairs – the LD needs to read the situation and see a potential loose puck/odd man situation and start covering some defensive ice positions. Since the PP is devised this way I blame system. But still I would expect more defensive awareness from all my players. *edit I actually just looked for a longer video.. and the play leading up the breakaway, dump into Cap Offensive zone, four Caps went down below the offensive faceoff dot. Cbus goalie stopped the puck and Cbus D cleared the puck strong side. Two ways to read this. Too many Caps went down low, leaving a high chance of odd man rush, and Carlson should not have committed so hard to hold the puck with two blue sweaters around. Carlson could have read it better, take a 2v1 over a breakaway… Left D could have stayed a bit higher..

    8th SHG – Ovi should have taken better care of the puck. 4 out of the 5 Caps became puck focused. Leaving two pass targets. I blame puck watching Caps.

    9th SHG – While Green could have read it better and shaded to the boards, I think the problem was when he let Garbutt take the line to the puck. Green stopped striding and the race was over from that point. Take the interference penalty if you have to, don’t let him waltz in. Who knows, Green may have been playing the scoreboard at that point and given up.

    10th SHG – I initially want to say system breakdown on the defending players. But Carlson should take the pass, let the shooter (with his stick on the outside) take the shot and let your backchecker put pressure/take away the inside space of the shooter. But Carlson turning to face the goalie? He had no idea of the position of the opposing player. That is Carlson’s bad play.

  • Jake Ettawakapow

    Lol Ovi. C’mon dude.

  • Jonah

    1st vid: cmon neuvy, ive taught 11 year olds how to stack the pads to stop that. either oates got in your head to or u just blew it.

    2nd vid: green. the fuck is that? that pass almost stopped before the charging jet took it. jets are a fast team that capitalize on breakaways, you gave them a change up right down the center of the plate.

    3rd vid: troy brouwer needs to leave. I’ve posted this on almost every article here since november, but he’s trash and should not be getting in the way of ward and wilson. he’s got no hands and is known as a “physical presence” but gets beaten in a simple board battle. just leave. brouwer rangers, there are plenty of other caps you can support, bura-rangers? how does that sound?

    5th vid: brouwer again, doesn’t win a race to a slow skating Dman, rest of the team gives up because they think it’ll be a penalty and HOLLLYYYY FUCKKKKK hagelin is fast.

    6th vid: carlson got beat, love the hustle from OV, no “glide” in his game there. supports peter’s theory about confirmation bias.

    7th vid: wow thats just awful. whole team. loved “ov the goalie” with the kick save but besides that just no one looked in it. i blame oates.

    8th vid: green gotta know that he can’t pinch in like that in a 1-3-1. also garbutt has some insane wheels there. is he available?

    9th vid: mix of everyone suffering from senioritis and also the canes were too spread out to realistically take away the pass because it would just cede a 1v1 for the puck carrier. chock it up to the general mental breakdown that was caps after about october 1st.

    conclusions: ov is not as lazy as canadian people try to tell us he is. brouwer, what even are you? green is a bad person at covering odd man rushes. bit of team, bit of him. team wasn’t in it mentally when they gave the puck up and/or expected a pen. trotz should stop that.

  • HockeyCoachBen

    What is a “playoff dot”? (About 7th paragraph…1st “Guilty Party” entry).

  • Zachary Adomanis

    I was already loyal but add The Get Up Kids into the mix…. I’ll lay in traffic for you

  • Sarah

    Lol! Thanks. Truly, I didn’t think this was a very negative entry, or that anybody down here was out of line. But I’m in the contingency that would rather say good bye to the subject of Oates entirely, unless there’s something new going on. Seems like the better option for the whole organization.
    Plus, now we have Trotz. I always had to limit myself to chilly respect for him when he was, ya know, a menace and a nuisance to the Stars. But now I get to like him like I always kinda wanted to, which is exciting.

  • Graham Dumas

    It’s the spot where our playoff hopes die every year… :'(

  • aloecap10

    “Perspicacious” is the word of the day.

    Oh and Mike Green’s name on this list annoyed me before reading past the headline.

  • Bobandy

    I agree that on most of these Ovie is not to blame, and that may skew his +/- a bit. But lets look at it….We are talking 9 shorthanded goals. He wound up with 27 even strength goals. Factoring out shorthanded goals against, he would be a (-26 +/-). That is still 53 even strength goals against while Ovie is on the ice. Don’t get me wrong, I love the guy, and am a huge fan, but, you guys seem to make excuses for him whenever you can. The fact is he a terribly inconsistent back checker, and often puts out very little effort in the defensive zone. If you don’t agree with that, I don’t which games you are watching. As the “C”, as the face of the franchise, as a leader, and as the highest paid player on the team, I think we should all expect a little more, especially if we hope this team will ever make it deep into the playoffs.

  • OvechkinFiresAndScores08

    I actually saw Ovi backcheck hard in a lot of those. He actually is one of the best back checkers in the league…when he wants to be. The +/- gives him a bad reputation.

  • OvechkinFiresAndScores08

    That’s definitely the best breakdown.

  • Bobandy

    when he wants to to be

  • scott

    oct 12th goal, shot is ovechkins fault for gliding past, however the goal entering the net is neuvirth’s fault 100%.