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Alex Ovechkin and the Caps' Power Play Problems

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"Our power play was horrible." - Bruce Boudreau after his extra man unit went 0-for-4 with just one shot on goal in 7:47 of power play time Friday night in Vancouver

No one in the NHL had more power play points in 2008-09 than the Caps' Alex Ovechkin. No one in the League had more goals in 2007-08 with the man advantage than AO. In fact, no player has more power play goals since the lockout than the Caps' superstar, and only one player in NHL history has ever lit the lamp more on the power play in his first four seasons than has Ovechkin.

But Ovechkin seems to be struggling a bit on the power play this season, with just six power play tallies in 28 games and a matching number of assists. A season ago, Ovechkin scored at a .58 power play points-per-game pace; this year he's down to .43.

To be sure, the Caps extra man unit keeps humming along, and is still fourth-best in the NHL despite going 0-for-8 over the weekend. But here's where it gets interesting: the power play is firing at a ridiculous 40.6% success rate in games Ovechkin didn't play and at just 17.9% when he's dressed. For those of you who are more visual learners, here's what that looks like graphically, with the darkened sections representing games Ovechkin has missed:


So what's behind these counter-intuitive trends? Well, for one thing, in the eight games that Ovechkin has missed, the Caps have faced the League's 14th-, 25th-, 25th-, 29th-, 11th-, 14th-, 25th- and 26th-rated penalty kills. In those five games against the teams in the bottom fifth of the League in penalty killing, the Caps went 11-for-27 (40.7%), including a 4-for-6 stat-padder in Philly. Then again, in the three games against the 11th-ranked Wild and 14th-ranked Devils, the Caps power play clicked at 40% (2-for-5), so no real drop off in that tiny sample.

What isn't happening (despite what your eyes may be telling you) is that the team shoots more without Ovechkin and gets too pass happy when he's there. To be sure, that happens at times, but the team is averaging 2.02 shots for every two minutes of power play time without Ovechkin and 1.98 with AO.

It's easy to theorize and explain away the six- and two-game hot streaks that occurred in Ovechkin's absence from the lineup (the team stepped up, they saw some pretty poor opponents, the sample size is small, they were less predictable, etc.), and it would be a tremendous stretch to say that the Caps' are better off without Ovechkin when they've got a man (or two) advantage. But the more troubling fact is that with Alex Ovechkin in the lineup, the Caps' power play has been average... and with the amount of talent it has, average isn't close to good enough.

For more on the Caps' recent power play struggles, check out today's Washington Post.