- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 4, 2012

Bad penalties and plenty of time spent killing them are bad enough for any hockey team. The Washington Capitals have dealt with their spells of discipline problems this season, but lately the situation has been worse.

They’ve been getting power plays and making the worst of those opportunities.

“Our power play is killing us. Absolutely killing us,” defenseman Dennis Wideman said after Friday’s 5-0 loss to New Jersey at Verizon Center. “We’re making wrong reads. We’re not backing each other up when there’s a bouncing puck, and we’re giving up breakaways and goals in every game.”

Power-play situations are killing the Caps, and it’s not happening softly. In 10 games before Sunday, they went 2-for-34 with the man advantage. A 5.9 percent success rate is anemic. It’s made even worse by the four short-handed goals allowed in that time, including one to the Devils.

A short-handed goal was the back-breaker at the New York Rangers on Feb. 12, starting this stretch of power-play futility where the Caps are on the minus side of the ledger.

“We got to play more safe and get it down low and just get pucks to the net,” coach Dale Hunter said.

Hunter’s plan, beginning Sunday night against the Philadelphia Flyers, was to put only defensemen on the points on the power play. In doing that, he keeps Alex Ovechkin or Brooks Laich from being caught in a bad spot.

The idea was to move Ovechkin to the half wall, a spot previously reserved for Nicklas Backstrom, who hasn’t played since suffering a concussion Jan. 3.

“Just trying different guys half board. With Nicky out, he was our half board guy for years here,” Hunter said. “And we’re still looking for the one.”

When Backstrom went out of the lineup, the Capitals were ranked 11th in the NHL on the power play at 19.1 percent. In 26 games without the star center, they scored just 10 times in 87 chances, an 11.5 percent clip.

One theory was that the power play was struggling mightily when Mike Green was sidelined by injuries, but the defenseman didn’t register a point in his first seven games back in the lineup.

Asked recently what the Caps needed to do better on the power play, the power-play specialist quipped “score goals.” It’s more about cashing in on rare chances.

“We’re not going to get five or six opportunities to score, and if we get one, we’ve got to make sure we capitalize,” he said. “I think that’s been the biggest thing is we’ve kind of hung our hat on our skill, and we’ve got to get to the net and grind and put those pucks to the net.”

At the very least, Washington wants to avoid giving up goals when its on the power play. Hunter routinely would play five forwards in man-advantage situations while with London (Ontario Hockey League) and wouldn’t be afraid to experiment. Defenseman John Carlson even spent some time up front on the power play with the Knights.

From a player’s standpoint, though, it’s all about trying not to shoulder too much pressure.

“I think we’re just not reading,” Wideman said. “We might be trying to push it a little too much because things aren’t going well.”

• Stephen Whyno can be reached at swhyno@washingtontimes.com.

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