Wednesday night the Washington Capitals were locked in a scoreless tie with the New York Rangers, when the Caps were given a chance to let their deadly power play unit take the ice an potentially grab the lead. Unfortunately, the power play was unable to get the job done. Perhaps unsurprisingly, bad passing was once again the culprit.
The Caps set up their familiar 1-3-1 power play and eventually worked the puck to Troy Brouwer, who plays in the middle of the "3" row. Normally, Brouwer's role in this position is that of a shooter, but because of the Rangers' defensive posture, Nicklas Backstrom had to give Brouwer a pass too far up ice for Brouwer to be able to one-time the puck, or even turn into a forehand shooting position. Once Brouwer receives the puck, we can see him turn clockwise so that he has the puck on his backhand. The Rangers quickly converge on him, and then things breakdown fast for the Capitals.
Brouwer has an easy pass option to a wide open Mike Green at the point. He has a potential passing lane to Alex Ovechkin on the left wing faceoff dot, but this pass is more dangerous and difficult to execute, since it would require passing through a Rangers penalty killer. The pass to Green is the easy call here, but getting the puck to Ovechkin at the faceoff dot is a plausible option given how deadly Ovechkin is from that spot. Instead of either of these options, Brouwer elects, for some reason, to attempt a blind backhand pass through three penalty killers to Marcus Johansson (possibly pulling his hierarchy of "dangerous Caps players" from the Edmonton Oilers). Predictably, the Rangers pick off the pass.
Most viewers probably expected that the picked off pass would result in the Rangers icing the puck and the Capitals losing some power play time. Not the end of the world, but frustrating. Instead, the Rangers aggressively pushed the puck up ice (and an aggressive Rangers penalty kill is nothing new, and apparently one thing that hasn't changed with the new coaching regime) and took off on a two-on-one. Ovechkin busts tail back to the defensive zone, and ends up taking a slashing penalty on Derek Stepan just as Stepan receives the puck to Holtby's left.
So the Caps didn't lose a little power play time, they lost all of it. The teams went to skate four-aside for about a minute and a half before the Caps would have to kill a penalty. Also frustrating but not the end of the world, right? Well as it would turn out, John Moore broke the scoreless tie during that period of four-on-four play with one of the most innocuous shots to ever get past Braden Holtby. Less than two minutes later, the one-goal deficit became a two-goal deficit. Momentum's a funny thing that way.
Brouwer's looked to as a veteran leader on this team, and has had plenty to say about the reasons for the Caps' slow start to the season. Effort wasn't the issue on this play, but we'd be remiss if we didn't point out that Brouwer called the Capitals' passing "embarrassing" after the loss to the Colorado Avalanche. Well, the passing problems have persisted, as we documented following the win against Edmonton, and now again in the loss to the Rangers. Passing is one of the most fundamental parts of hockey, and it's something that good teams do well. Whether it's the decision-making (in this example) or the execution (in the example against the Oilers), the Caps are not passing the puck very well as a team. Until that changes, their position in the standings won't.