The Other Power-Play Problem

Fix the power play, fix the team.

The owner said as much. The numbers say the same thing.

And while the focus with regards to the power play is on how a unit with essentially the same personnel can drop so precipitously so quickly - from first in the League a season ago to the bottom third this season - one related point isn't being discussed nearly as much, and that's the decline in power-play opportunities.

In addition to having an absolutely lethal power-play in 2009-10, the Caps were also in the top ten in the League in power-play opportunities (which is mildly surprising, given that teams that frequently play with leads don't ordinarily do well in penalty ratio, as we've discussed previously). That's obviously a pretty optimal combination.

This year's team, however, has not only struggled with the extra man, but it has also drawn relatively few penalties. That's obviously a combination at the other end of the desirability spectrum.

To quantify the difference, last year's Caps averaged 3.82 power-play opportunities per game; this year's team is averaging 3.41, a decline of more than 10% (and that number has dropped even further, to 2.8, for calendar year 2011). Put another way, even if the power-play conversion rate for this season was held constant at its current 16.8%, if the team was still averaging 3.82 power-plays per game, they'd have converted another four-plus goals, which isn't much, but it's worth more than one point in the standings (and potentially a few more in reality, given that the Caps lead the League in OT/SO losses).

So what's to blame for the drop-off? Well, effort, willingness to go into high-traffic areas, etc. And a less-aggressive offensive attack is almost certainly going to draw fewer penalties. But it's hard to quantify those and other theories. What we can show, however, is a bit of who is to blame for the drop-off - simply look at last year's penalties drawn (at even-strength) and compare it to this year's. The biggest culprits, in terms of penalties-drawn rate? Here you go:


Player 2009-10 PDRAW/60 2010-11 PDRAW/60
Mathieu Perreault 2.4 0.7 -1.7
Eric Fehr 1.2 0.3 -0.9
Mike Knuble 0.9 0.2 -0.7
Alexander Semin 1.4 0.8 -0.6
Matt Bradley 0.9 0.4 -0.5

Of note, Alex Ovechkin, despite his down year almost across-the-board, has actually increased his rate of drawing penalties (up from 1.2 to 1.8). So there's that.

Clearly the problems with the Caps' power-play are many, and the points discussed here really have far more to do with the team's performance at even-strength than with the extra man anyway. But practice makes perfect, as they say, and this team certainly could use some more in-game power-play practice, yet another aspect of this team's performance that pales in comparison to last year's.

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