Last night the Washington Capitals got back on the winning side of the ledger, continuing their dominance of the Boston Bruins in the process. After jumping ahead to a 2-1 lead, the Caps got some breathing room late in the second period thanks to a five-on-three goal from John Carlson - an area which, in the past, has mysteriously been less than effective despite the dominance of the Caps' power play in the Alex Ovechkin era. Last night may have shown us a glimpse into Barry Trotz's solution to the problem. Let's take a look.
First, the video:
This play, as executed, is essentially unstoppable. There will always be dangerous options on a two-man advantage, but the Caps put the Bruins in a position where they were forced to give up at least one Grade A chance for the Caps.
The Caps start with a pretty normal setup:
That's a fairly standard look for an NHL five-on-three power play, with two shooter options high, two down low, and one in the slot. The Caps have Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson both as options to quarterback the power play. Obviously, it's going to run through Backstrom.
The trouble for the Bruins starts after Carlson passes the puck down to Backstrom. Ovechkin skates behind Carlson and it looks like they are going to swap positions, setting Ovechkin up for a one-time blast.
Ovechkin is off-screen right now, but you can see Zdeno Chara playing the passing lane from Backstrom to Ovechkin (and if you watch the video again you'll see Chara repeatedly look back and forth from Backstrom to Ovechkin). Kevan Miller is dedicated to taking away the cross-crease pass to T.J. Oshie, and for good reason; that's probably the single most dangerous pass Backstrom could make.
That leaves Patrice Bergeron to cover the other most dangerous pass Backstrom could make - the pass to Justin Williams standing right between the hash marks. Ovechkin is the farthest Caps player from the net, but 1/3 of the Bruins' penalty kill is dedicated to taking away that pass. Such is the threat of Ovechkin's shot.
Back to the overlapping skate between Carlson and Ovechkin. The Bruins clearly think Carlson is going to skate to the left point. Maybe that would provide Ovechkin an outlet if he gets the puck but can't shoot. Who knows. All they know is Carlson isn't doing anything they have to worry about...
What the what? Next thing you know, John Carlson is standing inside the left wing faceoff dot, with nobody covering him and what amounts to a non-obstacle in the passing lane. I guess Miller's stick is technically trying to defend the Backstrom-to-Carlson pass, but that's a saucer pass Backstrom can make in his sleep (and if there's any justice in the world we'll see Backstrom dominate the saucer pass challenge this January. Take a seat John Tavares, Nick's got this.)
When Carlson shows up in the open ice between Oshie and Williams, the Bruins are toast. Backstrom can easily make any of those three passes; all he has to do is choose the option the Bruins don't defend. The only chance for the Bruins is a huge save from Tuukka Rask. This time, he can't make the save (and Rask not coming up with the save appears to be a bit of a trend this year).
As Caps fans have seen, nothing is truly unstoppable, especially when it comes to a seemingly-dominant power play. Coaches will work on figuring out a solution and at some point this exact play probably won't work. But, for now, as long as teams are dedicated to using a penalty killer to take away Alex Ovechkin, the Caps are going to have a variety of scoring threats that a penalty kill cannot completely defend. Here's hoping this is the end of the painful ineffectiveness with a two-man advantage we've seen over the last several seasons.
Now, if they can only get that pesky five-on-four unit clicking again...