Capitals’ power play keyed by precise passes

UNIONDALE, N.Y. — The Washington Capitals‘ power play has been a popular punching bag for the past couple of months, and deservedly so. Nicklas Backstrom’s concussion and absence from the lineup sapped the unit of its power.

“Our power play’s been struggling,” defenseman Dennis Wideman said, “and I think whenever any power play struggles is when you’re not moving the puck fast enough and you’re not moving yourself.”

Over the weekend it seemed to click. The puck was moving is if every pass was gliding over a freshly resurfaced sheet of ice, and it was a power play unrecognizable from the group that had scored just twice in the previous 37 opportunities.

And though there hasn’t been an explosion of power-play goals, an emphasis on puck movement has paid off.

“It’s harder on the [opposing penalty kill] when we move the puck. The puck moves faster than the guys,” center Mathieu Perreault said. “When you hold onto it, you just give them a chance to read and get on their set. When the puck’s moving quick, and then they’ve got to adjust and there’s openings. When you get openings, you can get goals.”

It sounds so simple, it makes one wonder why it wasn’t working like this before. Dale Hunter made the power play his speciality with London (OHL), and Mark French’s unit with Hershey (AHL) was clicking along at roughly 30 percent when forward Keith Aucoin was there.

Right wing Troy Brouwer conceded he and his teammates were getting too “stationary” on the power play.

“When you stand still, it’s easy to defend,” said Wideman, who quarterbacks the power play in Mike Green’s absence. “If you’re not moving, then the PK doesn’t have to move. It makes their job pretty easy.”

Not anymore. It started Saturday at Boston when the Capitals not only scored on the power play but threaded plenty of passes through the area in front of the crease. Brouwer said that was a case of taking care of the puck and not forcing the play.

It might help, actually, to have left wing Alex Ovechkin at the point instead of Green, who served the final game of his suspension Tuesday night at the New York Islanders. It’s often one penalty killer’s job to shut down Ovechkin, essentially isolating him and opening up more room.

“When we’re on the power play and he’s out there, then teams are trying to make sure he doesn’t get too many shots, trying to take him way,” Wideman said. “The onus is basically on the other players to get something done. It makes it basically a four-on-three.”

With the way the Caps are sliding the puck around on the power play, the more ice the better. Aucoin and Perreault talked repeatedly about opening up seams by keeping fluid movement, and the execution has been excellent because of puck possession.

“The guys are giving and going more, like in five-on-five,” Hunter said. “Cycling and give and go and create more havoc that way.”

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