- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 18, 2018

New York Rangers rookie coach David Quinn has spent most of his coaching career in the NCAA and the AHL. This season is his first tour of the NHL as a team’s head bench boss.

So someone asked him Wednesday night what it was like to watch Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin in person for the first time — specifically, to see him score twice on the power play. As the losing coach, Quinn had a word for it: “Sickening.”

It’s not as if opposing coaches and players don’t know Ovechkin is lethal on the power play. In Wednesday’s 4-3 overtime win, Ovechkin tied Dino Ciccarelli for ninth all-time in career power-play goals (232), just four fewer than the great Mario Lemieux. Both of his goals Wednesday came from the left circle, a place where he does so much work, people call it his “office.”

But the Capitals’ power play is more than just Ovechkin. The top unit of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie in the slot and John Carlson on the point is among the most talented in the NHL.

“The last 10 years, I mean, we’ve been established as a good power play. We’ve been top power play the last 10 years,” Backstrom said.



There is evidence to back that up: The Capitals’ power play has ranked top seven in the league in eight of the last 10 seasons, including the first- or second-best scoring unit five times. Through six games this year, Washington is scoring on 39.1 percent of its power plays, second in the league behind only Toronto.

“Basic logic” would say Ovechkin would be a predictable player to defend on the power play, yet it isn’t that simple, Matt Niskanen said.

“In order to completely take him away, other guys are just too open and they’re good enough to score,” he pointed out. “Are you gonna leave Osh open in the slot from the hash marks to cover Ovi? Our power play is set up well with what (handedness) guys are and their skill sets, so we have a lot of different options. Guys are good at reading what’s open. It’s pretty lethal.”

In recent years, Kuznetsov has arrived and moved from the second PP unit to the first. Oshie replaced Troy Brouwer after the Capitals traded for him in 2015. Carlson briefly moved to the second unit when the Capitals picked up Kevin Shattenkirk, but returned to top unit once Shattenkirk left.

Carlson, Oshie and Kuznetsov are in their prime and Washington has them locked up for years to come. And Ovechkin and Backstrom are not going anywhere soon.

Since joining Washington’s staff in 2014, coach Todd Reirden has seen the power play evolve in terms of player movement, new plays and the “unpredictable aspect” of guessing who will score next.

“We’ve talked about it recently that not many (goals) have come from No. 8 over in that spot, and so I think teams were also taking notice of that, and then he’s able to convert twice last night,” Reirden said. “That’s really keeping teams on their heels, is the important part of it. Now that we’ve had the same group of guys developing chemistry together, it’s fun to watch right now.”

Reirden, by the way, agreed with Backstrom’s assessment of where the Capitals have ranked in the last 10 years. The question that remains is how much better it can get.

“We’re still working on it every day,” Backstrom said. “We’re trying to come up with new things. As I’ve said many times before, it’s all our reads. Read the opponent, how they play us, because it’s going to be different options every night depending on how they’re playing us.”

The Capitals host the 0-2-2 Florida Panthers on Friday night before heading to Canada for a four-game road trip.

• Adam Zielonka can be reached at azielonka@washingtontimes.com.

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