- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 21, 2015

UNIONDALE, N.Y. — There were 40 seconds remaining on the power play when the Washington Capitals began the third period on Sunday, which should have been an opportunity to pick up a goal, tie the score and make the New York Islanders sweat.

Instead, New York had other plans. Although Nicklas Backstrom won the opening draw, the Capitals immediately gave the puck away in the neutral zone, leading to a clear that cost them the first 20 seconds. Then, after bringing it up through center ice, Backstrom had the puck poked away by Islanders center Casey Cizikas, costing Washington another 13 seconds.

The final seven seconds of the power play, then, led to a rushed shot on goal by Alex Ovechkin from his usual spot in the left faceoff circle, and like that, the advantage had ended.

That failure left the Capitals, who had entered the series with the best power play in the league over the regular season, a below-average 1-for-6 over the first three games. As they sought to salvage the first-round, best-of-seven playoff series with the Islanders on Tuesday night, they did so knowing that the power play would need to be more lethal if they were to continue playing.

“It’s all about us,” Ovechkin said Tuesday morning. “It’s not about them.”

Washington finished the regular season having converted on 25.3 percent of its power play opportunities, leaving it atop the league for the second time in three years. A large part of that was Ovechkin, who scored 25 goals with the man advantage — not only a single-season franchise record, but the most by any player in the league since Anaheim’s Teemu Selanne had 25 in 2006-07.

But the lone power play goal in the series was not Ovechkin‘s. Rather, it was by Backstrom, who accordingly led the league with 30 power play assists and picked up the goal by skating through the Islanders‘ defense early in the third period of Game 2.

New York entered the series having killed 78 percent of the power plays it faced this season, ranking 26th in the league. After adjusting its penalty kill in mid-March, however, the Islanders only allowed three goals on 42 power plays in their last 18 regular-season games.

The reason, Islanders coach Jack Capuano said, is because the team has identified a core group of penalty killers and deployed them for short, hard, active shifts.

“They’ve got two or three or four targets that they’re looking at, obviously, to try to expose us, and I think our guys have done a good job of not only being in position, but making sure they have active sticks, good sticks, and making sure the rotation works for us as we go,” Capuano said.

The Capitals were effective on the power play despite drawing the seventh-fewest penalties in the league this past season. A secret, then, to revitalizing that unit could be merely to draw more penalties — something that’s not easily done, especially at this point in the season.

For one, officiating tends to be looser in the playoffs, with officials less inclined to blow the whistle because they understand the drive, physicality and urgency among players. It’s also hard, defenseman John Carlson said, to try to instigate and goad opponents into committing a penalty because it takes focus away from the game.

“That’s where you get yourself into trouble,” Carlson said. “I think we just need to stick to our game plan, stick with what we’re doing and make sure that whenever we get that chance, we take advantage of it.”


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