Special Teams Spotlight - Capital Shift

If you don’t know it already from following me on Twitter, it’s going to become increasingly obvious to readers of this site how much I adore the Washington Capitals’ power play. I love the pieces themselves, where they slot them, and how they use them to move the puck. That said, after a while, opposing coaches will adapt to even the greatest power play scheme. The beauty of a good power play is that it can never be completely shut down. A man advantage means that the best power play can always beat the best penalty kill. But a power play won’t always be at its best, and sometimes you need new wrinkles. This year, for example, Alex Ovechkin has struggled to score off his patented one-timer. Whether it’s a result of aging, opponents adapting, poor shooting luck, or a combination of the three, the Capitals have needed to find new ways to score. Luckily, T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams are two dynamic slot options who are upgrades on what the team had before. I’ve been saying for a while that — especially against teams who shadow or guard Ovechkin closely — there should be a shift play available to free somebody up. Against Carolina a while back, Washington pulled just that, and it was brilliant.

Note: I realize I hadn’t identified Carolina as a team that shadowed Ovi in a previous STS. That’s my bad, hadn’t noted them doing that for some reason.

At 0:27, John Carlson rotates down low and Ovechkin moves over to take his spot at the point, taking defender Justin Faulk with him. The problem is that Carolina had been granting Carlson mostly open looks in favor of guarding the Caps’ biggest threat. But with Carlson closer to the net that no longer works. Confusion ensues leading to the first big cross-ice chance at 0:30. Cam Ward makes a good save but the Caps aren’t done. Oshie now rotates into Ovechkin’s office, with the Russian sniper still on the point.

These are the kind of looks that you dream about if you’re the Capitals, and the upshot is, Ovechkin isn’t even covered. He could skate into the slot and unleash a quick one-timer if he wanted. But of course the play to make is to Oshie, who just barely pulls it wide. It’s crazy to think how many goals the guy could have this year with a little more touch on his one-timers. Maybe he needs to sit down for a couple of sessions with Ovechkin himself, or just needs to empty a bucket of pucks in the half hour after practice.

If I’m the Capitals, I’m introducing a new one of these set play rotations in practice every month, but I’m not using them in games. Like in the NFL, save your best trick plays and fakes for the playoffs (if you know you’re going to get that far, which the Caps do). If I’m the Caps, poor luck aside, there’s no reason my team shouldn’t cash in on close to 30 percent of my opportunities in the playoffs (as I discussed on the PDOCast last week). It's a scary unit that could still get better. I can't wait to see what comes next.