Originally written by Erika Schnure for Red Light District, 10/25/2011
In the second half of the 2010-2011 NHL season, the Washington Capitals' power play went from one of the best in the league to practically non-existent. From February 2011 through the end of the regular season, the Capitals' power play went 16-for-88, just 18.1%. In the playoffs, it got even worse, ending in a 14.2% over nine games.
Coach Bruce Boudreau said that once the power play started to tank, it just got worse from there. "Last half of last year was a lot of 'panic-ville.' I think guys were holding their sticks too tight, trying to make the pretty plays all the time," Boudreau said. "When you're an offensive player, and you don't have the numbers that you're accustomed to, and every day people are asking you, 'How come your scoring's down?' Your confidence is down and you're not comfortable, and then you're trying harder. It may not look like you're trying harder, but you're trying to put square pegs into round holes, and you're doing things that you shouldn't be doing."
The poor power play of last season was a true departure from previous years. The Capitals finished second in the NHL in 2008-2009, and first in the league 2009-2010, with both seasons at 25.2% success on the power play. After the substandard success rate of the latter half of the 2010-2011 season, the Capitals finished the year in 16th place with 17.5%.
Now, seven games into the current season, the Capitals' power play is singing another tune. They're current first in the NHL on the power play, going 8-for-27, good for a 29.6% success rate while allowing zero shorthanded goals. That includes a 30.0% success rate at home.
What's so different about this year that is leading to an effective power play? Boudreau says that the players have stopped trying too hard and have returned to simple plays that work. "We're just getting back to what we're doing," Boudreau said. "I think with them seeing some success at doing what they're doing, they're going, 'Wow, let's just continue what we're doing.' Hopefully, it stays the same."
If you ask winger Mike Knuble, he attributes the success to the structure of the power play units. With Mike Green and Dennis Wideman healthy (both struggled with long injuries last season), the two offensive defensemen set up on the point, while fellow first unit components Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Troy Brouwer to cycle down low. Troy Brouwer was camped in front of the net while Mike Green scored two power play goals in Saturday's win against the Detroit Red Wings, and Knuble says crashing the net as Brouwer did is the key.
"There's times when we've gotten away from the net and you wonder why the power play is struggling. Then you look at the film, it's because you're not around the net enough," Knuble said. "So it's good to see that we have a net presence, it's the way to do things. It's the way that a power play should be executed. The skilled guys on the outside then you have somebody around the net that can finish and get in the way. It's a part of our success."
Boudreau and Knuble agree that last year's poor power play could have also been attributed to the separate lengthy losses of Mike Green and Dennis Wideman. "I think (Green's injury) had something to do with it," Boudreau said.
Knuble heaped praise on his teammates, saying, "It's great to have healthy Mike (Green), he's very sharp with the puck, and makes a lot of things happen. And Wideman I think, when he arrived last year (at the trade deadline) after Mike went down (hurt), he was tremendous, really was quarterbacking everything. When he went out of our lineup (injured) that was a big hole, too."
While it could be that Green and Wideman are healthy, the renewed power play success is more likely attributed to the fact that that the team isn't trying too hard, staying away from the pretty passes that go nowhere. Aside from a return to simplicity, Knuble also points to a more intangible, psychological reason for the power play progress.