Last night the Capitals came away with two much-needed points to start their western road trip, keeping pace with their Metropolitan division foes. The game wasn't without adversity, however, as the Caps had to respond to Winnipeg Jets counterpunches throughout a wild second period. Holding a 1-0 lead, the Caps went to the power play with an opportunity to give themselves some breathing room. The power play is normally where the Caps make hay, but last night it was not very powerful. The Caps out-shot the Jets 8-7... while the Caps were on the power play. Adam Oates and Alex Ovechkin both called the power play "casual," Troy Brouwer said the Caps made "poor decisions." Both were true, and ultimately, the casual play and poor decisions led to a Winnipeg game-tying shorthanded goal in a microcosm of last night's power play.
Right after Nicklas Backstrom entered the offensive zone, he was swarmed by three Jets penalty killers. Backstrom may have been caught off guard, but for a player that generally exhibits such exceptional poise with the puck it was surprising to see him turn the puck over right inside the blue line. Whether it was a hard pass cross-ice to Alex Ovechkin, or a simple dump down below the goal line, there were a couple of options for Backstrom. In hindsight, it's easy to call out Brouwer for being slow on the support, but if Backstrom was caught off guard by the quick pressure then there's no way Brouwer was expecting it (though a more aggressive posture would have had him in better position to chase down a puck in the corner).
What is less forgivable is Brouwer's attempt at puck retrieval in the neutral zone. With a loose puck in the neutral zone on the power play, there's no reason to dive to the ice for a desperation poke check. A hard backcheck would have allowed Brouwer to neutralize the Jets' rush, while the diving poke check is an all-or-nothing play.
Of course, the loose puck in the neutral zone brings us to Mike Green. Green, as Caps fans know, is one of the smoothest skating players in the league, and an offensive-minded player who's usually looking to make plays that will result in quick offense. Unfortunately, these are frequently the kind of plays that can backfire and put the Caps in defensively vulnerable situations. In this case, rather than skating to open ice before pivoting and looking for a passing outlet, Green starts to pivot while Andrew Ladd is hot on his trail. Green also tries to make a one-handed play on the puck, giving him less strength on his stick and fewer immediate options. Once Green realizes Ladd is right on top of him, he makes a soft pass to the middle of the ice, where the Jets have more help:
A stronger play on the puck could have prevented the odd-man rush, whether it be a hard dump deep into the Winnipeg zone or an area-pass to the far side of the ice where Ovechkin was standing alone. Bryan Little won the race to the loose puck at center, out-reaching the diving Brouwer, and the two-on-one was on:
Green was able to take away the passing lane between Ladd and Little, but similar to the goal against the Dallas Stars, the rebound went right to Little, and he made no mistake putting the puck into the open net (you'll also notice the coasting backchecker, but there was no way Ovechkin was going to catch Little on that play). Green would have had a difficult play to make to try to prevent Little from cashing in on the rebound, but the slow reaction to the shot and the near-360 degree rotation didn't give him any chance. A half-hearted one-handed waive was the only defense he could offer to Little's shot, and it clearly wasn't enough. Once Ladd and Little had the two-on-one, the die was cast; the opportunity to prevent that play was in the neutral zone.
Everyone has off-nights, and last night certainly was one for Green. It's hard to remember the last time he had as rough a game in the NHL, if ever. As bad as the play above was, it was just the tip of the iceberg that was Mike Green's horrible night. Green was on the ice for just four shots on goal for the Caps, and 14 for the Jets, totaling just 22% of the shots in favor of the Caps while he was on the ice at even strength. That's not what the Caps or their fans expect from their top-paid and top-scoring defenseman, and it's a big part of the reason he didn't see another shift after the midway point of the third period. As Oates said, this is a "minor hiccup," so we don't expect to see this kind of performance from Green again... but it was ugly.
Breakdowns are going to happen to every team, in every game. The Caps were fortunate to win this game, but the power play is the strength of the team, and when mental mistakes on the power play cost the team goals, it puts more pressure on their even strength play. Unfortunately, even strength play hasn't been a strength of this team since the Bruce Boudreau era. Unless that changes, they'll have less margin for error when they are granted power play opportunities.