LOS ANGELES, CA – FEBRUARY 24: Drew Doughty (L) #8 and Anze Kopitar #11 of the Los Angeles Kings celebrate Kopitar’s third period goal against the Minnesota Wild at Staples Center on February 24, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. The Kings defeated the Wild 4-2. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — When you think of the Washington Capitals’ power play the first thing that probably jumps into your mind is Alex Ovechkin casually standing on top of the left circle, waiting for somebody to lob a perfectly placed pass directly into his wheelhouse, and then him bombing a one-timer at the net. If you are a fan of the Capitals or have no rooting interest in the outcome of the game it can breathtakingly fun to watch. For everybody else there has to be a sense of inevitability to it all because you know where he is going to be, you know what is going to happen, and you know your team is probably not going to be able to stop it.
It is perhaps the most dominant play in the league, and it is a big part of what makes the Capitals power play such a valuable weapon for them. It is not the only weapon the Capitals have on the power play.
Entering Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final on Wednesday night (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN) the Capitals power play is clicking at 29.8 percent, which is an absurdly efficient rate. Among teams that have played at least 15 games in a single postseason that is the second-highest mark in league history (up from the fifth highest a few days ago when we last looked at these stunning numbers) trailing only the 1980-81 New York Islanders.
What makes the unit so difficult to defend is that is it has so many different options that can — and will — beat you.
The Ovechkin option is the obvious one, and the one that gets most of the attention both in terms of how the unit is talked about and defended.
In the second round the Penguins tried to take that option away from the Capitals by shading a player over into Ovechkin’s office and trying to keep him from unloading his one-timer on net. In terms of shutting down Ovechkin, it kind of worked. He didn’t score a single power play goal in the series (the only series this postseason in which he has not scored a power play goal, and only the fifth playoff series in his career he did not score a power play goal) and was limited to just five total shot attempts in 20 minutes of power play time That is only 0.25 shot attempts per minute, a shockingly low rate for Ovechkin. By comparison, he attempted 27 shots on the power play in 37 minutes of power play time (0.729 shots per minute) in the first-round against the Columbus Blue Jackets and has attempted 22 shots in 20 minutes of power play time in the first six games against Tampa Bay (1.1 shot attempts per minute).
The problem the Penguins ran into: All of that focus on Ovechkin left T.J. Oshie and John Carlson (17 shot attempts in 20 minutes of power play ice time, including a massive goal in Game 5 of the series where he was able to walk down the middle of the ice wide open) alone to beat them. And they did. Even with Ovechkin being a non-factor on the power play in terms of shot attempts and goals, the Capitals power play still managed to convert on 26.6 percent of its power play opportunities in the series. The top power play unit in the NHL during the regular season (Pittsburgh) converted on 26.2 percent of its chances. So … still great. Still better than everybody else.
The problem with shading over to Ovechkin and making it a 4-on-3 everywhere else is the “everywhere else” is also filled with talented players that form a cohesive unit that is masterful in what it does. They find the open area. They find the open man. They put the puck exactly where it needs to be to allow for the best and quickest shot possible.
While the Ovechkin one-timer is the notable play, the Capitals have seemingly perfected another one-timer that takes advantage of all of the attention that goes to Ovechkin. That would be where T.J. Oshie drifts into the soft area in the middle of the penalty kill box and creates just enough space to get a shot of his own. That play has worked numerous times for the Capitals in these playoffs. So far Oshie has a team-leading five power play goals this postseason, with four of them coming from this exact location, standing directly between four opposing players.
This is T.J Oshie’s office.
(He scored a power play goal just seconds after that screen shot).
Three of them were by the one-timer from there and one was a deflection from that spot. The fifth was a rebound off of a scramble in front.
Perhaps the biggest of those goals came in Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning to break what was at the time a scoreless tie in the second period. This went in the books as the game-winning goal.
After the game on Monday Oshie talked about what makes that play work and gave a lot of credit to the presence of Ovechkin.
“I think the biggest thing there is No. 8 over in his office,” said Oshie. “How teams play us all depends on where he is and how they want to play him. For me it’s just a matter of a couple of feet here and there to find that soft area, whether it’s [Nicklas Backstrom] or [Evgeny Kuznetsov] typically they are able to find a way to get that puck into the wheelhouse and it’s up to me to find the hole.”
So, in a way, Ovechkin still drives the success even if he is not the one doing the damage. This is definitely a case of making players around him better. It is still up to those players to make it work. They do exactly that, and it is what makes the Capitals’ power play almost impossible to defend. If they didn’t make it work the whole thing would fall apart and the “shadow Ovechkin” approach might actually create its desired result: Stop the power play. That is not at all what happens.
Take away Ovechkin’s office? Oshie and Carlson are going to beat you in the middle of the ice. Try to clog the middle of the ice? Ovechkin will once again be lurking above the circle with nobody around him. It is a no-win game. The only way to truly stop them is to just stay out of the penalty box.
• Since 2005-06, no team has played in more Game 7s than the Washington Capitals. But only three of those 10 do-or-die games have been played on the road. Japers’ Rink looks back at some of the small details that stand out during those road games. (Japers’ Rink)
• Through six Eastern Conference Final games, the Capitals and Lightning are as evenly matched as two teams can possibly be. That wasn’t the case for the Bolts in their 2016 Eastern Conference Final against Pittsburgh. (Raw Charge)
• Now that Mark Hunter and Lou Lamoriello are no longer in Toronto, GM Kyle Dubas will get to make a lot of the big decisions in Leaf land. (Sportsnet)
• Fun fact: Golden Knights head coach Gerard Gallant used to be nicknamed “Spudsie” during his days in Detroit. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
• Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has plenty of work to do this offseason, as he has to get Jacob Trouba, Connor Hellebuyck, Josh Morrissey and several others locked into new contracts. Paul Stastny is also scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent, while Patrik Laine is eligible for a contract extension, too. (Jets Nation)
• Wild GM Paul Fenton made it clear that he’s not going to totally rebuild his new team. Instead, he’s going to “tweak the process”. (Minneapolis StarTribune)
• Two months after fracturing his right ankle, Ryan Suter says he’s been making steady progress in his recovery. He’s still a few weeks away from being able to put any weight on the injured ankle though. (NHL.com/Wild)
• The Florida Panthers missed the playoffs by one point, but they can’t be satisfied with that. They need to figure out a way to make it back to the postseason in 2019 or big changes could be on their way. (Panther Parkway)
• Sports Logos takes a look back at some of the commemorative patches that teams have used in the Stanley Cup Final. (Sports Logos)
• The NHL’s board of governors will meet in Vegas next month to talk about a number of things including the possibility of expanding to Seattle. (Sonic Rising)
The Carolina Hurricanes need to score more goals. You know what’s a bad way to do that? By trading away their best sniper.
More than a few rumors are swirling that the Hurricanes are shopping Jeff Skinner, a winger who easily leads Carolina in goals (89 versus 55 in second place) and points (163, with second coming in at 139) since 2015-16. Elliotte Friedman mentioned growing interest in Skinner in May 11’s “31 Thoughts” while Bob McKenzie opined that Skinner’s “days are numbered” during a recent podcast (or … Bobcast).
Let’s go over all of the reasons why this is a bad idea and an inopportune time to trade Skinner.
Not selling high
OK, it’s probably a stretch to say that the Hurricanes would be “selling low” on Skinner, but they wouldn’t be doing so during a moment of strength, either.
On one hand, Skinner – a player with past concussion problems – played a full 82 games in 2017-18. Skinner’s 24 goals ranked second to rising star Sebastian Aho, who potted 29. Skinner’s typically solid possession stats were even better than usual last season.
Still, if the Hurricanes must trade Skinner (a possibility at some point, as his $5.75 million cap hit expires after next season), they should wait. Skinner’s 8.7 shooting percentage was his lowest success rate since 2014-15, so rival GMs might view him as a less “sexy” option right now, as opposed to 2016-17, when he scored a career-high 37 goals and 63 points with a 13.7 shooting percentage, second only to his 14.4 percent mark from that memorable Calder-winning campaign in 2010-11.
The point is that recent history frowns upon trading players who were riding poor puck luck.
At this moment, trading from a position of strength (defense) to improve a weakness (offense) makes sense for the Hurricanes, although there’s a challenge in getting that right. It’s tough to imagine Carolina enjoying the better end of a Skinner trade, especially in the immediate future.
Why rush this decision, particularly after a risky off-season of front office changes? Especially considering …
What a difference a year makes
It’s easy to forget how drastically an NHL team’s fortunes can change. Hot and cold streaks with goalies often explain why, too.
Last summer, the Winnipeg Jets seemed a lot like the Hurricanes: a team loaded with talent that couldn’t get over the hump, in part because of poor goaltending. The Senators and Oilers both saw flip-flopping seasons because of a number of factors, including stark contrasts between the good and bad for Craig Anderson and Cam Talbot respectively.
One could conceive of a situation where the Hurricanes look downright competitive if everything stayed the same and they merely improved in net, whether that means a rebound from Scott Darling or some other goalie coming in and pulling a Connor Hellebuyck.
This isn’t just about stopping pucks. Carolina wasn’t so great at scoring against goalies either in 2017-18, finishing ninth-to-last in the NHL with 225 goals. Skinner scored 24 of those, so would it really be wise to trade away essentially 10 percent of your tallies?
Hurricanes GM Don Waddell should take caution, as Skinner seems like he’d be part of the solution: a reliable scorer who can skate like few other players and who’s still in his prime at 26. The Hurricanes could regret trading Skinner as they battled in the playoff bubble, much like the Panthers missed Reilly Smith and/or Jonathan Marchessault.
And, if this team continues to flounder, you’d still likely be able to land a princely sum for Skinner during a mid-season or trade deadline move. Forcing a trade for the sake of making changes now seems almost certain to backfire, unless the Hurricanes convince a team to send a superstar their way. Somehow.
Look, it’s plausible that someone will make the Hurricanes an offer they can’t refuse. Stranger things have happened.
Red flags wave over such rumblings when you consider how often teams regret trading a player when his shooting percentage has cooled, and sports/hockey history is bursting with examples of teams getting quarters on the dollar when they trade their better players.
It’s possible that the Hurricanes shouldn’t trade Skinner, period. Either way, this seems like a really risky time to make such a move.
I mean, unless Waddell wants to take some heat off of Dale Tallon, Peter Chiarelli, Marc Bergevin, and other GMs who’ve made trades that keep Hockey Twitter giggling into the night.
Let’s be honest. As important a hire as Lou Lamoriello as president of hockey operations is for the New York Islanders, many of us could barely even utter his name before “John Tavares” returned to the forefront of any Isles thoughts.
That’s just going to be the status quo until we find out if Tavares re-signs with the Islanders or if he ventures elsewhere and breaks thousands of hearts on Long Island.
So, there’s no sense denying the all-world elephant in the room. Lamoriello could do great work for the Islanders if, say, he decided to be full-on GM, but a Tavares departure would still make this front office move a footnote. On the other hand, things would be downright intriguing in Brooklyn if Tavares returns (whether it has anything to do with Lou or not).
As much as we’d like to accurately forecast the Tavares sweepstakes, the truth is that few truly know what will happen. Hey, it’s possible that Tavares himself might still be mulling over his decision.
With or without their best star in ages, the Islanders have a lot of work to do. In a way, it seems like Lamoriello is being asked to do a repair job much like he did with the Toronto Maple Leafs, who were able to get rid of pesky contracts and add some key components under his watch.
Get the notion
During today’s press conference, Lamoriello was his usual guarded self, not revealing much about the futures of GM Garth Snow and head coach Doug Weight.
The thing is, Lamoriello could make plenty of inferences, even from the outside.
Really, you could argue that everything starts and stops with Snow. He’s been given rare leeway for a GM considering his 12-year reign, especially considering that the Isles have only won a single playoff series with Tavares and since their glory days. (We’ll get to the messy salary structure soon.)
Snow selected Doug Weight to go from interim and then full-on head coach, and while the interim run almost included a playoff berth, the past 2017-18 season was a disaster. Sure, shabby goaltending didn’t help, but how much of that falls on Weight’s shoulders? This Andre Burakovsky quote should shake any manager to the core:
Lamoriello’s not shy about taking over the GM seat, so you wonder if Snow’s days are melting away. He cannot wait too long to make a decision about Weight, as this is the time of year when you enjoy a greater number of opportunities to find coaching replacements. What’s Dave Tippett doing these days?
(Waits for Jacques Lemaire jokes[?].)
Oh yeah, and Lamoriello also must prepare for the 2018 NHL Draft. That could be awfully interesting since the Islanders boast picks 11 and 12, with the latter choice stemming from the Travis Hamonic trade. This figures to be a whirlwind couple of months for Lamoriello and the Islanders organization.
If you’re convinced the Islanders will retain Tavares and thus feel little sympathy for this team, just take a look at their salary structure at Cap Friendly. Yikes.
During his time in Toronto, Lamoriello helped the Maple Leafs jettison bad contracts from the Phil Kessel days, whether that came via LTIR loophole maneuvering (just ask Joffrey Lupul, though he’ll eventually delete his response) or savvy trades. It says a lot about Lamoriello’s skills that the Maple Leafs didn’t need to retain salary in getting rid of Dion Phaneuf‘s ghastly contract in 2016, yet the Senators were forced to eat $1.75 million of his cap hit in February.
It’s strange to see a 75-year-old executive serving as a rebuilder/repairer of franchises, particularly after he guided the New Jersey Devils for a generation, but the Isles could benefit from his “cleaning” services. There are some odious contracts, so we’ll see if Lamoriello can conjure some magic to move beyond mistakes like the deals handed to Andrew Ladd and Cal Clutterbuck.
(It turns out Lamoriello cleans up more than a team’s facial hair choices. Cue Monty Burns and Don Mattingly.)
One rare good thing about the Islanders’ salary structure is a gimme: Mathew Barzal‘s on his rookie deal through 2019-20, so Lamoriello doesn’t even need to worry about extension negotiations during this summer. Worst-case scenario, they’ll still have at least one spellbinding star at center.
Re-signing Tavares stands as priorities one through 91, but there are other choices to make.
Brock Nelson stands out as the most prominent forward alongside noteworthy defensemen (including Calvin de Haan, Thomas Hickey, and Ryan Pulock) who are slated for RFA or UFA statuses. There are some key players approaching contract years in 2018-19, with Jordan Eberle and underrated (and underpaid) scorer Anders Lee headlining the list. Lamoriello must mull over which players to keep, for how long, and for how much.
If Tavares’ situation is the elephant in the room, then goaltending is the massive hole in the wall.
It’s tough to imagine any team taking on Thomas Greiss ($3.33M cap hit through 2019-20) after he submarined his team’s chances a lot like Scott Darling did in Carolina, so Lamoriello’s tasked with finding ways to reduce the damage. He at least has options; the Isles might get more out of Greiss by improving the system around him (replace Weight, or hope Weight improves?) or possibly looking to a different goalie coach. Perhaps Lou would even opt for a sports psychologist?
Either way, Lamoriello must also target another goalie, whether that guy is deemed a true backup, the new starter, or a platoon partner for Greiss.
(Again, a dream scenario would be to somehow move Greiss and get better in net without losing too many other assets, yet that might require Lamoriello to actually become a wizard. Or maybe he’d just need to get Peter Chiarelli on the phone?)
That’s quite a brain-full, right?
The scary part is that this is a simplified version of the choices that await. Lamoriello will need to ponder the franchise’s past failures. Did poor pro scouting inspire questionable additions such as Ladd, at least at his price point? Is this team doing enough to develop its draft picks?
Lou Lamoriello faces a ton of questions, with many of them standing as challenges even for a decorated, experienced executive. In some cases, he’ll need to make some key calls soon, and it should be fascinating to learn what the future holds for the Isles.
Of course, the biggest call actually falls to John Tavares, maybe more than all of the other ones combined.