With the sixth-rated power play in the League (22.5% successful), it might seem odd to discuss what's wrong with the unit. But "wrong" is a relative term, and with just three goals scored in 21 chances over the past five games, it's time to talk about it a bit.
First, a look at whose getting the PP minutes. The top five Caps skaters, in order of power-play ice time per game, are Mike Green, Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin, Nicklas Backstrom and Sergei Fedorov. Three of those players - Green, Semin and Fedorov - have missed at least 13 games each due to injuries, and here's what the power play has done with and without them:
Those aren't typos. The power play has been better - markedly so - in the absence of each of those players. In fact, the PP has been just 16.9% successful in games in which all three have played (15 games) and 26.7% in games that all three sat out.
One explanation for the differences with and without these incredibly skilled skaters is that the power play gets away from the basics of "shots and traffic" and turns into a highlight-seeking, marginally effective passing clinic. Psst... garbage goals make the highlights too, fellas. Which of these five is going to retrieve the puck on a dump in when the blueline is stacked? Which of these five is going to screen the goalie and crash the net?
On an unrelated personnel issue, you've probably noticed that one of the NHL's new rules this season was that following any penalty that creates an extra man situation, the ensuing faceoff is taken in the offensive zone for the team on the power play... which brings us to Nicklas Backstrom.
Backstrom has been positively brilliant on the power play this season, and only two players in the entire League have more PP points than young Nick. But he struggles in the faceoff circle. Backstrom has won 46.2% of his faceoffs on the season overall, and while he has won 49.6% of his PP draws, losing those key draws are killers. Enter Brooks Laich, who has won 54.3% of his PP faceoffs and 53.0% overall. Laich is also a guy who is willing to pay the price in front or in the corners on a dump in. Brooks Laich needs to be on the first power play unit, not seventh among forwards in extra man ice time.
For obvious reasons, AO, Green and Backstrom should stay on the first unit, and now that we have tapped Laich for the grunt work on that line, we need a fifth. The question, then, is whether that fifth should be a wing, leaving AO to play the left point, or someone to play that point and bump Ovi down to the halfboards. And while I'm not in love with Ovechkin on the point, I think it works if the forward added to the first unit is Viktor Kozlov.
Kozlov is another big body and is currently ninth in the League in points per sixty minutes of power play time (right behind Backstrom) and sixth in Goals For on Ice per 60. More importantly, when Kozlov happens to have the puck, he won't hoard it. The result of this alignment is a couple of shooters at the top of the zone, a couple of able passers (who can also score) on the wings, and a grunt in front doing his thing. No more over-passing - bombs away.
That would leave a second unit with Tomas Fleischmann, Michael Nylander and Semin up front, with Fedorov and Tom Poti on the blueline (though we all know the first unit pair will stay out there a while).
Another option would be putting Fedorov out on the point on the first unit (with Ovechkin moving down and Kozlov getting bumped), primarily as a more responsible player defensively, to try to negate shorthanded chances against, should the Caps run into a team in the Spring that is particularly proficient in that skill.
So that's what I've got. What do you want to see - more of the same or a bit of a change?
Elsewhere 'Round the Rinks:
Do yourself a favor and go read this article from a year ago today. It holds up well, doesn't it?... Plenty of Caps-related talk at the SI mid-season round table (some of which Allan Muir expounds upon here, including a couple of repeat award winners).... If you never thought you'd see "Mike Green" and "Nancy Pelosi" in the same sentence (or restaurant), you were wrong.... John Carlson was December's OHL Rookie of the Month.... Today's Cap of the Day needs a hug.... Happy 31st birthday, Josef Boumedienne and happy 42nd, Ulf Dahlen.... Finally, two years ago today, we discussed the prospect of Ice Girls and whether or not Donald Brashear was doing his job, and three years ago today, we were talking about the greatest American players of all-time (still a favorite post of mine).