Photo: Rob Carr
The Washington Capitals’ power play has operated in the same way for years under a myriad of coaches. It features a 1-3-1 setup. The main weapon is Alex Ovechkin, who scored 19 of his 50 goals on the man-advantage in the regular season. Since 2011, it’s been one of the league’s top five units. Everyone knows what’s coming; they just can’t stop it.
In their first round series against the Philadelphia Flyers, the Capitals power play was key as the team jumped out to an early 3-0 lead, converting on eight of 17 man-advantage opportunities, despite the Capitals often getting outplayed at even strength.
“Our power play is successful because everybody is on the same page, everybody knows what they have to do,” Ovechkin said after Saturday’s morning skate. “If they take me away, Carly’s open or Osh or Willy or Kuzy or Backy. It’s hard to stop. If I have a chance to shoot the puck I will, but I’ll take a guy with me to go to the goal line or something.”
Lovejoy celebrates his goal (Photo: Rob Carr)
Capitals defensemen Dmitry Orlov went for the big hit, hoping to take Penguins center Nick Bonino out at the blue line. Instead, Orlov missed, colliding with Nate Schmidt. Bonino was left with an unfettered path to the net. He shot the puck on Braden Holtby before Ben Lovejoy cleaned up the rebound at the midway point of Game One on Thursday, tying the score at one.
Orlov, who, like Schmidt, is playing in his first postseason in the NHL, didn’t see the ice for the rest of the game, save for a brief 25-second shift early in the third period. He finished with less than six minutes of time on ice.
On Sunday after the Caps closed out the Flyers, Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth had a moment in the handshake line. Shaking his head in admiration, Holtby gave a big high-five and a pat on the shoulder to his former long-time teammate and rival. Neuvirth finished the series with a .981 save percentage, giving up only two goals in three games.
Caps defenseman John Carlson also had a moment with Neuvirth in the handshake line, though he had to do a lot of jersey tugging to get his attention. Carlson and Neuvirth grew up together in the AHL before both landing in the NHL.
During the third period of Game One, Flyers forward Brayden Schenn dispensed several questionable hits. Schenn launched himself into Mike Richards along the boards, knocked Evgeny Kuznetsov head-first into the crossbar, and hit Karl Alzner after the game ended.
Saturday night, the Caps delivered some humble pie to Schenn. Alex Ovechkin checked the forward into the Flyers bench during the first period. Then John Carlson sent the dude flying when Schenn tried to light him up as he skated out from behind the net.
Photo: Patrick Smith
Wednesday morning, Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner was asked about the defensive pairing of Nate Schmidt and Dmitry Orlov. They were both set to make their NHL playoff debuts in Game One of the first round against the Philadelphia Flyers. He paused halfway through his answer.
“You know, I’m just thinking, laughing in my head about Schmitty,” Alzner said. “He’s always so excited for a regular season game, I can’t imagine what he’s gonna be like for a playoff game. It’ll be fun.”
The Caps let two power plays go by with no goals but a bunch of chances. Finally in the second, they broke through.
The Caps rode a wave of momentum after Alex Ovechkin nailed Sean Couturier with a big hit at center ice. Five minutes later, with Brandon Manning in the box for delay of game, John Carlson converted the PP and scored Washington’s first goal of the playoffs.
The Washington Capitals’ special teams units have been at or near the top of the league rankings all year. While the number of power-play chances certainly goes down once the playoffs begin, the relative rarity of goals and chances makes converting those opportunities all the more important. Look none other than to the last President’s Trophy run. In that playoffs first round match-up the Montreal Canadiens scored six PP goals to the Capitals one, the Canadiens prevailed. Last year in the first round, the Islanders did not score a PP goal while the Caps scored two. Then in the very next round the New York Rangers tallied three PP goals to the Capitals one.
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