Last year? They ranked first in power play percentage, converting on 25.3 percent of their opportunities. Year before that? They were tied for first with the Pittsburgh Penguins at 23.4 percent. And the year before that? Yup, you guessed it. First at 26.8 percent.
The Capitals power play just works because they have the most lethal shooter in the NHL, accompanied with two left-handed playmakers and a puck moving defenseman.
The Caps run a 1-3-1 formation on the power play, an extremely aggressive/risky formation to run. In order for it to succeed, the players on the ice need to keep the puck on their stick and move the puck around intelligently. If they fail to do so, or give up a silly turnover, it could quite easily spring an odd-man rush for the penalty kill.
Now, why is this formation so successful and so deadly? It creates a ton of options for everyone on the ice.
Take a look at this.
The Capitals really spread out their version of the 1-3-1, and they generally bring it in close to the net, because each player is very comfortable with the puck. But why is it so successful? Because look at all of the options it creates. Here's the passing options for the three main puck handlers on the power play: The defenseman up top, the forward on the half bard and the forward behind the net.
If the defenseman has the puck:
The defenseman can feed the puck down to the forward on the half board, or he can feed it over to the forward hanging out by the face off dot for the one timer. The defenseman could also step in for a shot, or carry it towards the middle of the blue line. This is where John Carlson normally plays on the power play
If the forward on the half board has the puck.
The forward on the half boards has a lot of options. He can drop it back to the defenseman, throw it behind the net, or look for the player in the slot. If the guy in the slot is down low on the crease, he could even look towards the opposite face off dot for the one timer. That guy on the half boards? It's normally Nicklas Backstrom.
And, finally, the forward behind the net.
If the guy behind the net gets the puck, his first look needs to be in the slot for an easy goal opportunity. If not, his safest bet is right back to the forward on the half board. If the guy on the face off circle cheats in towards the net, the backdoor one timer opportunity could be available. This is normally Marcus Johansson's spot.
Now, it should be obvious who we want to shoot the puck the most often. The main guy is hanging out around the left face off dot. Any guess as to who that might be? It's Alex Ovechkin.
But the guy that should have the second most opportunities is hiding right in that slot. Who played that position last season? It was mostly Troy Brouwer. Second on the depth chart for power play slot was Joel Ward.
Both those guys aren't on the team anymore. And now, there is a vacant spot on the Caps power play.
In order to successfully play in this slot position on the power play, you need to possess several different qualities. First, you need to be right-handed. The way this formation is set up requires a right-handed player to play in front of the net. If the player is left-handed, it cuts back on the one timer opportunities, and just makes everything a bit more difficult.
Second, you need to be strong. If you're playing down right on the crease, you're going to be up against several large defensemen, constantly trying to knock you out of position. You also need to be willing to, you know, stand in front of a net to set screens and grab juicy rebounds.
Third, well, you obviously need to be able to score.
So, who are the possible replacements on the power play for Brouwer and Ward?
If it were up to me, I'd look at three players as likely candidate: T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams and Tom Wilson.
Now, right off the bat, we can determine one thing: They are all right-handed.
The second criteria is a little bit more difficult to determine. Wilson is definitely physical and strong enough to play in the slot. At 6'4", 210 pounds, Wilson is one of the strongest forwards in the NHL. Oshie isn't quite as large at just 5'11" and 189 pounds, and Williams isn't all too much larger at 6'1" 189 pounds.
But what is really critical in determining who could possibly succeed in the slot on the power play is actual offensive production.
With the St. Louis Blues last season, Oshie averaged about 2:38 minutes of power play time per game. And with the Los Angeles Kings, Williams averaged just under two minutes per game at 1:59. Their time gives us enough of a sample size to look at how much they were able to produce on the power play. However, Wilson played just four seconds per game on the power play, so there is absolutely no way we can judge him on his power play time. For Wilson, we would just have to purely speculate. He certainly has the body type to succeed in the slot on the power play. But does he actually have that offensive touch that the Capitals originally thought he had?
We do know that Wilson has recorded a low shooting percentage in the beginning parts of his career, scoring on just 4.9 percent of his total shots. That is simply not going to cut it as a power play player. If Wilson can find that scoring touch that he had in his last year with the Plymouth Whalers in the OHL (he scored 23 goals and 58 points in 48 games).
But we know a lot more about what Oshie and Williams could potentially do on the power play. Last year, Oshie had three goals and 10 assists on the power play. Williams had four goals and nine assists. Brouwer had eight goals and six assists, and Ward had five goals and five assists. Brouwer may have had the most goals and points, but he technically wasn't the better power play player. Both Williams and Oshie had more points on the power play per 60 minutes of play than Brouwer.
Why else did Brouwer succeed on the power play? Because he was playing in the slot. The slot is right in front of the net, or a "high danger" zone on the ice. This area gave Brouwer the best possible chance to score a goal. Just look at how much more high danger shots Brouwer was able to take on the power play in comparison to Oshie and Williams (and, for an added bonus, Brouwer had a lot of power play time against less-competitive competition).
|Via War On Ice|
Brouwer had 28 high danger scoring chances on the power play. Williams had 11. Oshie had four. And even though Brouwer had significantly more high-danger opportunities than both Williams and Oshie, Brouwer converted on 18.6 percent of his shots. Oshie? 13.64 percent. And Williams recorded a 13.79 percentage.
So, if Oshie was in Brouwer's position last year, with a 13.64 shooting percentage on the power play, Oshie would have added another three goals to his power play total output. And we could reasonably predict that Oshie's shooting percentage would be even higher if he had more high-danger scoring chances!
So all those people who have been pointing out to you that Brouwer had more goals than Oshie did last season? Sure, of course he did. He was given a premium position on the power play, given ample opportunities to score against weaker competition than Oshie did. And Oshie still just finished with two goals less than Brouwer.
If both Oshie and Williams were to play in the slot position on the 1-3-1 Capitals power play, we could reasonably assume both would out-perform Brouwer on the power play.
Between Williams and Oshie, the Capitals couldn't go wrong with sliding either in the slot position on the power play. And both players actually have experience down low in the slot. Here's how many high-danger opportunities each of them had during even-strength five on five play.
Whether it's Williams, Oshie or Wilson, it is almost a certainty that they will score more goals this season than they did in the past. And if it's Oshie or Williams, they will almost certainly outperform Brouwer this season.
Oshie would be the best bet to play in the slot, as he's the more offensive player and has a high shooting percentage. Williams is a close second, and he may be built more for the position than Oshie. And we don't really know what Wilson is capable of just yet.
But what we do know is that the Capitals power play will continue to hum along just fine.