- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 5, 2011

TORONTO | There’s no option in hockey to decline a penalty, with the obvious exception of taking another one. And the memories of last season’s power-play failures in the playoffs against the Canadiens are still fresh in the minds of Capitals players.

“Power play can win the game,” Alex Ovechkin said. “You can see what happened last year.”

Following a regular season in which the power play led the entire NHL, the lights went out almost entirely in the playoffs for the Caps, to the tune of a 1-for-33 performance.

With just two games left in the season following Tuesday night’s 3-2 shootout victory over the Maple Leafs, players understand now is the time to get the key part of their offense rolling - even if last year isn’t discussed internally.

“It’s a new season, a new playoffs,” said winger Marco Sturm, who wasn’t around for last year’s implosion. “It’s for our own good - we wanna have a good power play in the playoffs because it’s so important.”

The emphasis is on more shots at the net, something that’s discussed in every power-play meeting. But talk is cheap.

“It’s harder to do than just say it,” center Marcus Johansson said. “You gotta make stuff happen and take those shots that sometimes you don’t wanna take. So I think that’s the most important thing - you gotta shoot, get traffic in front and win the battles.”

Of late, the power play has looked better. It cashed in twice Saturday night against the Sabres, prompting coach Bruce Boudreau to say, “Anytime we can score a power play goal, it’s a beautiful thing.”

That helped bring the Caps’ power play out of an extended lull.

But the results haven’t been there this season like Boudreau had been used to.

Washington was first in the league last year at 25.2 percent and second the previous year at 25.5 percent. Now? The Caps are stuck at 16.9 percent, good for just 17th in the league.

But now that the Caps have risen in the Eastern Conference and fixed up a lot of other holes, they’ve turned their attention to the power play in the hopes of getting it geared up at the same time this season that it sputtered a year ago.

“We’ve had the same personnel. For whatever reason it hasn’t worked all the time, but I think we’re moving around a bit, we’re moving the puck quickly,” winger Mike Knuble said. “I think when we stand around with the puck and move it kinda casually around the outside, you’re not gonna get the defense to move.

“I think when you can incorporate a shot pretty early into the power play, it kinda gets things rolling, it kinda gets them moving around, gets them out of position. That’s when your lanes open up.”

Shots, you say? The right elixir for that could be the return of Mike Green. On Tuesday afternoon, Tyler Sloan hinted that the Caps could get more defensemen back for Wednesday night’s game against the Panthers - and that could mean Green is ready to play his first game since Feb. 25.

Note: Alexander Semin didn’t make the trip to Toronto with the Caps, and Boudreau did not have a set date for his return.

The coach did concede that if this were the playoffs, Semin could have played against the Leafs.