- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Washington Capitals enter the postseason with one of the top offenses in the NHL, in part because of a fearsome power play that was the league’s second best in the regular season.

In the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Caps will meet a formidable foil when they draw a penalty: The New York Rangers were the best team at preventing extra-man markers this season.

“Every series, every playoff game, the special teams are huge,” Caps defenseman Tom Poti said. “Usually with playoff-type hockey, you don’t see too many even-strength goals. If you do, they are usually ugly goals that go off guys’ skates in front of the net, so specialty teams are always a huge key.”

Washington finished the season with the best power-play proficiency in team history (25.2 percent), just behind the Detroit Red Wings (25.5) for the top spot in the league. Both Alex Ovechkin and Mike Green proved dangerous weapons, combining for 37 extra-man goals.

There is also depth and variety on the power play. Green and Ovechkin score most of their goals by bombing away from the point, while Nicklas Backstrom (14 PPGs) and Tomas Fleischmann (seven) spend most of their time working along the wall or near the goal line. Then there is Brooks Laich, who has collected most of his nine power-play goals within a few feet of the net.

“We have a good foundation,” Green said. “We have a good system that our coach has taught us, and anytime there is a problem, he addresses it. We go and fix it, and then we usually score.”

The Rangers counter with penalty killers who were successful 87.8 percent of the time. New York has a collection of defensively responsible forwards who excel at killing penalties, but the key for the Rangers is goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.

The 27-year old Swede is one of the league’s elite, and he shines short-handed. His .913 save percentage when down a man was second behind only Minnesota’s Niklas Backstrom.

“I think they’re aggressive,” Laich said. “Two things: aggressive and great goaltending. They don’t get out of position, they have smart forwards, reliable defense and you’ve got to beat Lundqvist to get a goal. It is going to be a good matchup.”

In the Caps’ three victories against the Rangers this season, they were 4-for-13 on the power play, scoring two goals during their dramatic comeback Dec. 23 at Madison Square Garden. In New York’s lone win against Washington, the Caps went 0-for-2.

“If we do the right things on our power play, we usually score - it doesn’t matter who we’re playing,” Green said. “We’re aware they have a good PK, and they’ve been consistent all season. But like I said, if we do the right things, we’ll be fine.”

Note - Poti and forwards Donald Brashear and Boyd Gordon practiced Monday. Poti, who has missed three straight games and a total of 30 this season because of groin injuries, said he isn’t certain he will be able to play in Wednesday’s Game 1 at Verizon Center.

Both Gordon, who missed the final 10 games of the season with a broken finger, and Brashear, who was out for 14 contests with a sprained knee, said they expect to be available. Gordon had hoped to play before the regular season ended.

“I guess that might have just been wishful thinking on my part,” Gordon said. “Sometimes it takes a little while to get to a point where you can play with something. I can go if they if want me to go. I am ready.”

In preparation for the return of Gordon and/or Brashear, the Caps sent Keith Aucoin, who had been with the team on an emergency basis, back to Hershey of the American Hockey League.

• Corey Masisak can be reached at cmasisak@washingtontimes.com.

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