Washington per­plexed by power out­age with man ad­van­tage

The Washington Times Daily - - Sports - BY STEPHENWHYNO


Bad penal­ties and plenty of time spent killing them are bad enough for any hockey team. The Washington Cap­i­tals have dealt with their spells of dis­ci­pline prob­lems this sea­son, but lately the sit­u­a­tion has been worse.

They’ve been get­ting power plays and mak­ing the worst of those op­por­tu­ni­ties.

“Our power play is killing us. Ab­so­lutely killing us,” de­fense­man Den­nis Wide­man said af­ter Fri­day’s 5-0 loss to New Jer­sey at Ver­i­zon Cen­ter. “We’re mak­ing wrong reads. We’re not back­ing each other up when there’s a bounc­ing puck, and we’re giv­ing up break­aways and goals in ev­ery game.”

Power-play sit­u­a­tions are killing the Caps, and it’s not hap­pen­ing softly. In 10 games be­fore Sun­day, they went 2-for-34 with the man ad­van­tage. A 5.9 per­cent suc­cess rate is ane­mic. It’s made even worse by the four shorthanded goals al­lowed in that time, in­clud­ing one to the Devils.

A short-handed goal was the back-breaker at the New York Rangers on Feb. 12, start­ing this stretch of power-play fu­til­ity where the Caps are on the mi­nus side of the ledger.

“We got to play more safe and get it down low and just get pucks to the net,” coach Dale Hunter said.

Hunter’s plan, be­gin­ning Sun­day night against the Philadel­phia Fly­ers, was to put only de­fense­men on the points on the power play. In do­ing that, he keeps Alex Ovechkin or Brooks Laich from be­ing caught in a bad spot.

The idea was to move Ovechkin to the half wall, a spot pre­vi­ously re­served for Nicklas Back­strom, who hasn’t played since suf­fer­ing a con­cus­sion Jan. 3.

“Just try­ing dif­fer­ent guys half board. With Nicky out, he was our half board guy for years here,” Hunter said. “And we’re still look­ing for the one.”

When Back­strom went out of the lineup, the Cap­i­tals were ranked 11th in the NHL on the power play at 19.1 per­cent. In 26 games with­out the star cen­ter, they scored just 10 times in 87 chances, an 11.5 per­cent clip.

One the­ory was that the power play was strug­gling might­ily when Mike Green was side­lined by in­juries, but the de­fense­man didn’t reg­is­ter a point in his first seven games back in the lineup.

Asked re­cently what the Caps needed to do bet­ter on the power play, the power-play spe­cial­ist quipped “score goals.” It’s more about cash­ing in on rare chances.

“We’re not go­ing to get five or six op­por­tu­ni­ties to score, and if we get one, we’ve got to make sure we cap­i­tal­ize,” he said. “I think that’s been the big­gest thing is we’ve kind of hung our hat on our skill, and we’ve got to get to the net and grind and put those pucks to the net.”

At the very least, Washington wants to avoid giv­ing up goals when its on the power play. Hunter rou­tinely would play five for­wards in man-ad­van­tage sit­u­a­tions while with London (On­tario Hockey League) and wouldn’t be afraid to ex­per­i­ment. De­fense­man John Carl­son even spent some time up front on the power play with the Knights.

From a player’s stand­point, though, it’s all about try­ing not to shoul­der too much pres­sure.

“I think we’re just not read­ing,” Wide­man said. “We might be try­ing to push it a lit­tle too much be­cause things aren’t go­ing well.”

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