Every so-called expert, me included, has been blistering the Capitals this season for their lack of scoring, their apparent lack of leadership and their struggling power play.
The Capitals were not a bad hockey team headed into yesterday morning. The Caps are just not last year’s scoring machine, and if we learned anything about last season, it is that Washington was only about scoring.
They were actually better suited for the NHL playoffs as they stood yesterday morning than they were when last season concluded.
Defensively, the Capitals are ranked seventh in the NHL, allowing 2.48 goals per game. They have not sniffed the top 10 in defense since the '99-'00 season. So everything everyone thought was the problem the Caps fixed. Right?
They did what everyone wanted following last year’s humiliating first-round playoff exit, they went back to the drawing board and revamped the way they play defense. Everyone bought into the system, including one of the best offensive players in world, Alexander Ovechkin.
What apparently has occurred is that somewhere along the way, the Washington Capitals forgot how to play with the extra man. Look no further Caps fans, the power play has hurt this team like nothing else has.
Not even Ovechkin's goal scoring drop off is as major. In fact, you could probably attribute a good portion of his drop off to the Caps horrendous power play.
Last year Ovechkin had 13 PP goals, 19 the year before and 22 the year before that. So if you factor in five more goals to Ovechkin's totals this season he has 29 and is seventh or eighth in the league right now.
Ovechkin has just five power play goals all season and none at home. I know that's a lot of "ifs" in the equation but at least you can pinpoint the issue. The issue is the power play, period!
Last season the capitals scored 79 power play goals, 11 more than the second best team, and they did that with four fewer chances.
If Washington scored two more power-play goals in every game the rest of this season, they still would not match last season totals. I would not count on that happening, considering that it has been 39 games since Washington has scored multiple power-play goals in a game. This has officially become the longest drought in franchise history.
The Caps currently convert with the extra man 16.3 percent of the time compared to a whopping 25.2 percent of the time last season. Let us meet in the middle and see where Washington could be with a power play that was just good or better than average.
That would be a power play that converts 20.9 percent of the time, which would rank them currently sixth or seventh in the league, which is where they should be with the their talent.
That would be 10 more goals and for the sake of those that will blast this article and say that 10 more goals does not equal 10 more wins, I say fine, I will just give them a point per goal. Ten more points. Anyone have any idea where 10 more points would put the Washington Capitals right now?
You think 10 more points is too much, cut that in half and give them five more points. What did yesterday have to do with any of this? The Capitals acquired a player that scores 60 percent of his points with the extra man.
Defenseman Dennis Wideman is a monster at the blue line on the power play, a veteran presence that will have to be accounted for. Wideman has been productive on the Panthers power play this year, with 19 of his 33 points having come with the man advantage.
Eight of his nine goals have come on the power play. So if Dennis Wideman could do nothing else but make the Caps better with the extra man than he was the steal at this years trade deadline.
Granted, the Panthers are ranked lower than Washington with the extra man this year, but just think how bad they would have been without Wideman at the blue line this season.
Well, they are about to find out. After Mike Green, the Caps had no one else defenses had to respect at the blue line, therefore they could cheat and clog the passing lanes to Ovechkin. Washington could not work the puck down low. Wideman will make teams respect the area above the high slot more and this could possibly help free up Ovechkin.
The Caps are very young at the blue line, and no other Caps defenseman can work the PP like Mike Green can, John Carlson is getting a lot of on the job training but he's not Mike Green. The acquisition of Wideman changed everything for Washington at the blue line yesterday, especially on the power play.
Make no mistake about it, Wideman was necessary yesterday. Mike Green will be out a few weeks with a head injury because of the hit he took from the Rangers Derek Stephan on Friday night. The hit to Green's head was his second blow to his head in as many weeks.
Wideman will help the power play. With Green out, the effects may not be seen immediately, but with both quarterbacking a shift on the PP in a week or two, the Caps could be dangerous again.
This year could be the polar opposite when it comes to the power play of last season. The Caps could go from one of the worst PPs to one of the best, just as they went from the best to one of the worst. They obviously have the talent and Wideman helps it along.
I blame Bruce Boudrea for the power play troubles. He has not adjusted to the way the opposition figured the Caps PP out. It is obvious that Montreal wrote the book on how to stop the explosive Caps PP last year but it is still dump and chase and look for Ovie in the slot.
Occasionally the Caps and even Ovie will go to the front of the net creating chances. Boudreau will need to and can get creative with Wideman and Green, when he returns.
With the acquisition of Jason Arnott, the Caps get the leadership they so desperately need. This leadership comes with the experience of a Stanley Cup ring. Arnot also brings stability to the second line. He brings intangibles and when you mention the Washington Capitals, you can never put a check mark in the intangible column.
Experience, leadership and a desire to win cannot be measured. "Those kind of intangibles are something that we wanted in the room, like we had when we got Sergei Fedorov two years ago," McPhee said.
Do you think a guy like Arnott may have had something to say before the start of Game 7 against Montreal last season? Hell, he would have said something before Game 6, possibly avoiding a game seven
If McPhee made one mistake, it was he did not jump in a little sooner last week, possibly trading for better talent. As I said, the Caps were not a bad team headed into yesterday morning and McPhee did not give away the house to improve them. Make no mistake, McPhee did improve the Washington Capitals yesterday.
I give McPhee a B grade; as always only mid April and May will tell if any of this paid off for McPhee and the Capitals. It's the Capitals and my credibility would go to hell in a hand basket if I said the Caps were Stanley Cup bound after yesterday's moves. I will not go that far, but I will say they are a better playoff team today than they were yesterday and most certainly better than last year.
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