The Washington Capitals' power play has been deadly for almost the entire Adam Oates tenure, with the Caps currently sitting second in the league in efficiency. The worst kept secret is that Alex Ovechkin is the tip of the power play's proverbial spear, and teams have struggled to find a way to neutralize his shot, with limited success. Last night, the Carolina Hurricanes essentially committed one penalty killer to shadow Ovechkin, leaving three defenders to cover the other four Caps attackers. Ovechkin was limited to one power-play assist on the night, but three Caps goals with the extra man says it wasn't exactly a successful approach for the host 'Canes. Let's take a look at how it all went down.
After a brief foray to the crease, Ovechkin skates J. Staal out to the circle to Ward's right. Patrick Dwyer is covering the passing lane between Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson, Tim Gleason and Justin Falk are both, for some reason covering Troy Brouwer in the slot. The 'Canes take Ovechkin away, take Brouwer away, and take the one-time point shot away. Backstrom steps into the open ice and fires a shot Ward can't control. Johansson is left uncovered, with no defender close, and scores. Gleason should have been closer to stop the second and third efforts, but by using one guy to shadow Ovechkin, Carolina had to leave more open ice for the rest of the Caps:
Next time around, Carolina cleaned up their defensive spacing, but the result was the same:
This time Gleason and Faulk were a little further from Brouwer, and separated so that Faulk could slide to Backstrom and Gleason could slide to Johansson, if needed. Radek Dvorak is covering the passing lane to the point, but as soon as Backstrom begins to cut to the top of the circle, as he did on the prior power play, Dvorak moves towards him. Backstrom flips a backhand pass to Carlson, who nicely one-times a bouncing puck through the traffic and past Ward. Brouwer was free in the slot to attempt to deflect the puck and/or screen Ward:
Carolina went shorthanded one more time in the game, and the Caps took advantage for the game-winning goal. Similar to the prior goal, Backstrom was able to set up the one-time point shot:
J. Staal has the responsibility for the pass from Backstrom to Mike Green, but as Backstrom drives towards the faceoff circle he pulls Staal over (and he pulls Ron Hainsey up away from Johansson, leaving the latter alone in front of Ward). Backstrom probably could have hit Brouwer for a one-timer, but Staal's stick playing that passing lane, Nick sends home backhand sauce through the unguarded option. Green breaks his stick on the shot (it's been that kind of season for him, hasn't it?), but gets enough on it to make it to the net. Brouwer, unmolested in the slot, is able to deflect the puck and the Johansson screen provides just enough chaos to get the puck past Ward.
The Caps were able to take advantage of three power plays opportunities in the second period, giving them just enough offense to win. Alex Ovechkin played the role of the decoy, but the supporting cast made Carolina pay. Teams will undoubtedly continue to try to take Ovechkin away, sometimes employing a shadow as Carolina did. If Backstrom and company can continue to score on de facto four-on-three power plays, teams won't be able to take away Ovechkin, making him - and the team - all the more dangerous.