Every new year after the ball drops in Times Square, millions of Americans swear that this year will be different.
“New year, new me,” we say, declaring our new year’s resolutions. But a week or two into January, the new memberships to Planet Fitness go unused and the salad purchased at the grocery store uneaten.
For the Washington Capitals, the new year began Wednesday, but one big weakness that plagued the team last season has carried over to this one.
After being one of the worst power-play teams in the NHL last season, the Capitals have opened the new campaign struggling with the man advantage again. Alex Ovechkin & Co. have scored on just one of their 11 power-play opportunities through three games (1-2).
“We’re grinding to generate,” coach Peter Laviolette told reporters Sunday. “I think at times through the course of the year that happens, where offense isn’t easy. We’re working for it right now.”
The ineffectiveness on special teams began almost immediately after the puck dropped on Wednesday’s opening night. Washington went 0-for-4 on the power play in the 5-2 loss to the Boston Bruins — the Capitals’ first season-opening defeat since 2013. Then, on Thursday, the Capitals were shut out with the man advantage in a 3-2 loss to the Maple Leafs — failing to score on any of their five opportunities against former Washington goalie Ilya Samsonov.
The last time Washington started 0-2 was 2012.
“Obviously that’s the start we don’t want to have, two losses in a row, but it’s a wake-up call,” Ovechkin said.
Of course, Washington’s lackluster power play is far from its only problem. For example, the defense made several miscues on opening night to leave new goaltender Darcy Kuemper out to dry. But taking advantage of other teams’ penalties is crucial. Last year, the Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche scored on 24% of their power plays.
Washington finished 23rd in power play percentage a season ago, scoring just 18.8% of the time — nearly two points below the league average. But even that number was deceiving, since the Capitals spent most of the campaign in the bottom five. The team improved slightly over the final half of the schedule, as center Nicklas Backstrom returned from his hip injury.
That’s another similarity between last year and this year. The Capitals are again without Backstrom, who underwent an invasive hip surgery in June and is out indefinitely. The 34-year old center, who has played his entire career alongside Ovechkin, is an experienced and skilled presence with the man advantage who is hard to replace.
Expecting he’d be out for some or most of the season, Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan brought in former first-round pick Dylan Strome to replace Backstrom. But early on, it seems as if the Capitals are still having trouble finding their groove with the man advantage without Backstrom.
However, three games is too small a sample size to fairly judge the effectiveness of a team’s power play. And it hasn’t been all bad on special teams. The Capitals’ third game of the season — a 3-1 win over Montreal on Saturday — did finally feature a power-play goal from T.J. Oshie.
“We have a certain standard that we need to play up to — live up to — here, and we weren’t doing that in the first two games,” Oshie told reporters after the win. “We need to keep pushing that standard as the season goes and roll those things over.”
After starting 0-for-9 with the man advantage, Laviolette altered his units, moving center Evgeny Kuznetsov down to the second unit and Marcus Johansson up to the first. The change paid off Saturday.
“The power play I thought did a good job of moving pucks around,” Laviolette said. “There was a lot of chances on the power play. When we scored, they moved it around really well and generated looks from all over. That was positive to see.”
• Jacob Calvin Meyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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