TORONTO — It really can’t be said enough times how much the Washington Capitals miss Mike Green. They’re 8-0-0 with him at least in the lineup and 2-6-1 without him.
No place is that more evident than the power play, where Green is arguably one of the best unit quarterbacks in the league. There’s something about his steadying presence on the blue line that makes everything click.
“I’m not putting it on one person; with Mike we were first in the league, and now we’re where we are,” coach Bruce Boudreau said earlier this week while in Nashville, Tenn. “And I told the players, it’s a great challenge. We’re not a one-person power play. Let’s do it with the group we’ve got here.”
Challenge issued. But not acted on yet. The Caps are trying, but the results on this road trip have been dreadful. In two games, they’re 0-for-8 in 12 minutes of power-play time. They’ve slipped to 10th in the league.
“We’ve just got to be more cohesive,” Boudreau said. “In Nashville we had some really good chances — we’re just not burying them. I don’t know right now.”
Barring dominant goaltending or dominant defense, it’s very hard to win games with that kind of lack-of-success rate on the power play.
What’s going wrong? Well, Green being out with a groin injury is a good place to start, but it won’t go too far in solving anything.
The most basic thing seems to be trying to create the perfect play and not putting enough pucks on net.
“We’ve got to get on the same page. We’re trying to force things a little bit rather than take what’s given to us,” right wing Troy Brouwer said. “We’ve just got to make sure we’re just shooting pucks, keeping it simple, making sure that we’re retrieving pucks and just making sure that we’re getting the puck in the guys’ hands that we need it.”
The quantity of shots (13 on eight power plays) isn’t the problem. Instead it’s the quality of scoring chances.
On a simple level, the pressure and desire to score is elevated as part of this skid.
“You see the way some guys are fanning on the pucks and I think it’s because they’re over anxious,” Boudreau said. “They want to do so well, and yet, sometimes you squeeze the stick so hard that nothing works for you. I think some guys are at that stage right now where they just have to relax — and they’re very skilled players — and just do what comes natural to them.”
Another issue is getting enough shots through, as the penalty killers are blocking a lot. Green’s powerful, accurate shot is hard to duplicate, though Dennis Wideman’s quick-release wrister seems to often find its way to the net.
At the other point on the first unit is Brooks Laich, whose shot isn’t as feared but who provides stability back there.
“He’s responsible defensively,” Boudreau said Thursday. “You look at the personnel. It’s nothing negative about John Erskine or Jeff Schultz or guys like that, but they don’t feel comfortable on the power play, and we want to save our defense a little bit. They’ve been banged up a lot and you don’t want each one of them, or some of them playing 25 or 26 minutes a night.”
Part of that, the coach said, is an effort to limit 37-year-old Roman Hamrlik’s ice time so as to not wear him down in November. Hamrlik and John Carlson are on the second unit, which also hasn’t been tearing things up.
Alex Ovechkin has spent much of this season on the left wall and moving around the offensive zone, rather than at the point. Boudreau said it’s an effort to make Ovechkin harder to defend.
But Ovechkin feels more comfortable out there because of his experience. Boudreau’s willing to move guys around until something works.
When or how that happens remains to be seen, but the Caps aren’t overreacting to the power-play woes.
“Every team goes through lulls where they’re not doing very well,” Brouwer said. “It’ll come.”