On February 2nd against the Edmonton Oilers – the Caps last game before the All-Star break – the game was tied with about four minutes left in the third period. The Caps had a golden opportunity – they were headed to the power play. They lost that game, in regulation no less. Why? Because Edmonton scored a shorthanded goal during that power play opportunity. The Caps had three power plays during the game, and they failed to register a single shot during any of them, which created the almost literally unbelievable statistic that the Caps opposition scored more goals during Caps’ power plays than the Caps generated shots-on-goal.
It was a disaster moment that was a microcosm of the season for Blaine Forysthe’s unit, which is fifth worse in the League (and that’s actually an improvement from where they were about a week prior). But what is truly remarkable about this power play doesn’t have to do with its putrid comparison to other city’s teams, so much as its putrid comparison to Caps power plays of years past. All years past, not just the high-octane Ovechkin era.
Converting at a paltry 15.3% gives this year’s squad the distinction of being the fourth-worst recorded power play in the team’s history, and the worst since 2005-2006, when the Caps converted 14.7% of their chances. For context, that team won 29 games and finished second-last in the Eastern Conference. Granted, the word “recorded” above is laboring a little bit, as power play data wasn’t recorded until the 1977-1978 season, which means a couple of famously terrible Capitals squads aren’t included in the comparison.
But here’s the thing – conversion rate on the power play isn’t telling the whole story because it’s not accounting for shorthanded goals allowed. This year’s unit has allowed 6 shorthanded goals. Only the Los Angeles Kings (7), and the New Jersey Devils (8) have allowed more. 13 times in the Caps history, they’ve allowed fewer than 6 shorthanded goals over the course of the entire season.
To account for this, the NHL conveniently provides a metric called “Net PP%”, where a shorthanded goal allowed cancels out a power play goal scored. By this metric, the only Caps powerplay to ever be worse than the current one (with the same caveat about when this data began to be recorded), was the 1977-1978 team, which won 17 games, and finished second-last in the league.
So, the last time the Nation’s Capital saw a power play this anemic, the NHL was comprised of eighteen teams, two of which were the Cleveland Barons and the Atlanta Flames, and when the Capitals played in the same division as the Los Angeles Kings, and probably no one under the age of 50 has any recollection of it.
Cool, cool, cool…