When Mike Green came back to the Washington Capitals’ lineup in February, many figured that would be the elixir for a troubled power play.
The defenseman was regarded as one of the better power-play quarterbacks in the NHL, and surely he’d help in center Nicklas Backstrom’s absence.
Green’s return didn’t, as the Caps slogged along at a 14.7 percent success rate from the time Backstrom went out with a concussion Jan. 3 until he returned last weekend. Now, the 24-year-old is seen as the missing piece.
“Most of our power play is always, the last four or five years, worked off Nick,” forward Brooks Laich said. “Everything sort of goes through him. He’s a great passer. He sees the ice really well. That’s been one of the main areas that we’ve missed him.”
Yet in two games since Backstrom’s return, the power play has gone 0 for 7. The Capitals realize that’s an area that must improve in the final two games as they try to wrap up a playoff spot that seemed automatic before a 4-2 loss at Tampa Bay on Monday.
Those hopes rest on Backstrom, who has hasn’t shown much rust from the long layoff.
“He’s a natural on the half-board, he sees the ice well. … He’s got one of those gifts where he doesn’t have to look at the guy to pass it: He just knows where he is,” coach Dale Hunter said. “It’s basically getting his timing back.”
Time for Backstrom to rediscover a sense of timing is running out.
The star center lamented Monday not feeling how he would like right away.
“I think everything can be a little better, especially positioning,” he said. “I felt like I was running around there.”
On the power play, especially Saturday against Montreal when Washington had five chances, Backstrom possessed the puck and facilitated movement well.
Teammates seemed to try to get him the puck in front of the net for scoring chances, though, and the power play faltered.
The problem came from a simple source.
“Power play, I didn’t think we [played] well,” captain Alex Ovechkin said. “We didn’t move the puck, we didn’t shoot the puck, actually.”
In Monday’s loss, the Capitals were scoreless on two power-play chances, and the Lightning scored on one of their four opportunities.
Hunter credited Tampa Bay goalie Dwayne Roloson.
“We had some opportunities … but again your best penalty killer is always your goalie,” he said.
With Backstrom controlling the tempo, the Caps should be able to generate chances that take the goalie out of the equation, such as backdoor plays where someone can pop the puck into an empty net.
“He’s one of the best at seeing the ice and seeing plays before they even happen, getting pucks in guys hands so that they can score,” Green said.
Green’s lack of output on the power play is an issue; he has just a secondary assist on an empty-net goal in 20 games back from sports hernia surgery.
Players have pointed out that Backstrom makes teammates better. That’s desperately needed in a lot of areas, no place more than the power play. But getting him going and back into form might have to be the first step.
“He’s an offensive guy, so you want to get him back feeling good about his game, which is controlling the puck, making plays, getting shots on net. The best opportunity for that is on the power play,” Laich said. “Get him feeling like he’s in control on the ice, like he’s dominating the game.”
• Stephen Whyno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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