The Capitals were 0 for 5 on the power play against the Flyers, with two late chances in the third period against goaltender Carter Hart. For the NHL-leading Capitals, who are expected to boast an immaculate power play year after year, five opportunities typically would be a “not if but when” situation.
However, the Capitals have struggled for more than a month to find the back of the net. Since the beginning of December, Washington’s power play has ranked 30th in the league at 13.7 percent. During that stretch, the Capitals have scored seven power-play goals and given up three shorthanded goals.
It all culminated Wednesday in one of the worst showings of the season, during which the unit managed just five shots on goal during 10 minutes with a man advantage. The team also gave up a shorthanded breakaway goal to Kevin Hayes that was the eventual game-winner.
“I think we were just a little too passive,” Backstrom said. “Even if we are at a one-man advantage, we need to be a little more desperate, I think, and, yeah, it’s all about execution, too. If you execute plays good things happen, and we weren’t on the same page tonight.”
Capitals Coach Todd Reirden and his staff look at certain criteria when evaluating the power play, including the number of entries, recoveries and turnovers. None of those numbers was in the Capitals’ favor against the Flyers, and Reirden blamed most of the unit’s problems on its execution and will to outwork the opponent.
“You don’t need to score every time,” Reirden said. “It’s not possible to score every time, but you have to give momentum to your team, and we gave it to the opposition tonight, especially at the end of the second.”
Reirden has emphasized that evaluating the team’s power play is all about not overreacting when things are going well or vice versa. Before Wednesday, the team had been getting chances on the power play but just needed a stronger finish. Against the Flyers, it did not generate enough chances.
Over the past eight games, the Capitals have earned four or more chances on the power play five times. During those games, they are a combined 5 for 24. Curiously, while the power-play unit has struggled, the Capitals have flourished in six-on-five situations. In a comeback win over the San Jose Sharks on Sunday, Washington scored twice with an extra attacker in the final minute of regulation to force overtime.
“We’ve converted at some six-on-fives, which are odd-man situations for us … but in terms of our power play and where it ranks in the league, it needs some improvement there,” Reirden said. “We are too good of players for that to happen. [It’s] execution, and when it comes down to it, you have to outwork the opponent, and those are things that fell short [Wednesday] and as a result one of the reasons that [we] came up short.”
Last season, zone entries proved to be a major problem. This season — and especially Wednesday — it has been the power-play setup overall.
Forward Tom Wilson said the Capitals had been getting a lot of good chances, but they just weren’t going in. When that happens, Wilson said, players start to force things to try to make something happen, and the whole system gets out of sync.
“Everyone expects you to perform. Everyone expects you to get it done,” Wilson said. “It’s a lot of responsibility, and those are our top guys. We have to get the job done.”
Wilson, who plays on the second power-play unit, usually gets on the ice with less than half of the power-play time left, after T.J. Oshie comes off with the first unit. Wilson’s role is to try to make “one big play” as the time is running out.
“We got one of the best coaches around the league looking over our power-play film, and we believe in the group, so we will fix it,” Wilson said. “And hopefully as the hockey gets more important we will be hitting our stride.”