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Stanley Cup Playoffs 2013: Capitals keeping the power in power play
Fans at Verizon Center leapt to their feet as soon as the whistle blew. The Washington Capitals hadn’t scored a goal all afternoon, but with a power play led by Alex Ovechkin and Mike Green about to take the ice, it felt automatic.
Meanwhile, New York Rangers coach John Tortorella lamented his team’s power play that through two games of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals was “just too stagnant. We’re just almost paralyzed.”
Special teams have meant everything in this opening-round series the Caps lead 2-0.
“Five-on-five, it’s going to be tight game,” Caps left wing Martin Erat said. “In the playoffs, you’re going to have lots of games on the line on the penalty kill there or a power play.”
The Caps have two power play goals, including Green’s overtime winner Saturday, and are 7 for 7 on the penalty kill, the major reason why they’re up two games on the Rangers going into Game 3 in New York on Monday.
“When the power play went out, we all had a lot of confidence that we were going to get one there,” defenseman Karl Alzner said of Game 2. “And PK, it’s just been guys just working really, really hard. … We’re getting the bounces for us right now, and we’d like it to continue.”
It’s more than bounces. Washington had the NHL’s best power play during the regular season and is 28 for its past 30 on the penalty kill. Both units working in concert is a nightmare for the Rangers.
That was the case in a scoreless Game 2, when the kill came up with two stellar showings in the final 12 minutes before Ryan McDonagh’s delay of game penalty put the dangerous power play to work. Green blasted a shot through traffic that goaltender Henrik Lundqvist didn’t see; he heard it clank off the post and in.
“We had [a penalty] ourselves and were able to kill it off and got a lot of momentum when we did,” right wing Troy Brouwer said. “Our PP, we’ve been able to lean on it all season long. It’s come through with a lot of wins for us, a lot of big timely goals, and there was another one.”
The power play that converted 26.8 percent of its chances during 48 regular-season games is 2 for 7 (28.6 percent) through two playoff games.
“First three years [under Bruce Boudreau] we was in the first in the league, and last year [under Dale Hunter] we was kind of struggling because [it was a] different situation,” Ovechkin said. “But right now, we’re back on the track, and we knew the team have to be afraid to take penalties because we’re going to try to use it.”
First-year coach Adam Oates doesn’t like having the No. 1-ranked unit in the league, but there is a benefit to continued success.
“You want to have confidence in your power play,” Oates said. “I don’t want it to be No. 1 because, in my mind, if a guy’s driving to the rink thinking that the only time he’s going to be successful is on the power play, that’s wrong. Power plays, we had two [in Game 2] — one in regulation. That’s two minutes; there’s 58 minutes of other hockey.”
Some of that other hockey has included penalty-killing time — more chances for the Caps to frustrate the Rangers, who have just 10 shots on seven power plays and have hardly been a threat to score.
“They got a good power play,” Erat said. “They haven’t been able to put it together, but we have to just elevate our game every single game what we play and see how it goes.”
It would be tough for the penalty kill to elevate its game any more than it already has. Its No. 27 ranking during the regular season was more evidence of a poor start than it was a show of weakness.
“We’re not looking at 27th,” right wing Eric Fehr said. “I think if you look at the last 20 games of the season, we were right up there in the league in the penalty kill. We changed a few things, and we’ve been a lot better since then. We expect a lot of big things from our PK.”
In each of the first two games, the penalty kill has been crucial in turning the tide. Brouwer and defenseman Steve Oleksy spent a few nervous minutes in the box Saturday, but their teammates were in control the whole time.
It wasn’t like this early in the season, when opposing power plays scored at will. The Caps allowed 15 power-play in their first 11 games but have surrendered just 20 in the past 39.
“It was obviously a new system of killing [under Oates],” center Jay Beagle said. “Whenever you’re changing over, it takes a little bit of time. I think that’s what it was at the beginning. Just like our five-on-five, it took a little bit to get used to and become natural, and now it’s natural.”
Killing off 93.3 percent of penalties dating to April 13 is more than natural — it’s spectacular. Oates said it’s a matter of his players making better reads.
But that’s five-on-five and on the power play, too. The Caps have been better at just about everything through two games against the Rangers.
“You have to trust everyone on your team,” goaltender Braden Holtby said. “It was a feeling out process. Guys kept having faith in each other, and that’s why we’re at where we are right now.”
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