Oshie, Ovechkin give Capitals’ power play unique options

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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.

MORE:
• Conference Finals schedule, TV info
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

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Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports
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LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced.

The Knights termed the procedure as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.

Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

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DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released on $500 bond.

The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

Online jail and court records didn’t list an attorney for Brunette.

Brunette is in his first season as associate coach of the Devils. He was interim coach of the Florida Panthers last season after taking over when Joel Quenneville resigned for his connection to a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse scandal.

The Panthers fired Brunette after they lost in the second round of the playoffs last spring despite him leading them to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team during the regular season.

The Sudbury, Ontario, native played 1,159 NHL games for Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago from 1995-2012. He was a Wild assistant in 2015-16 and worked on Florida’s staff from 2019-2022.

Stars aligned with new coach DeBoer, Nill-constructed roster

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DALLAS — General manager Jim Nill sensed things were coming together for the Dallas Stars even before the season started with new coach Pete DeBoer and a roster mixed with proven veterans, up-and-coming young players, and even a teenaged center.

At the NHL’s All-Star break, after 51 games together, these Stars are leading the Western Conference.

“Every year you start, you put a team together, and there’s always going to be question marks,” said Nill, in his 10th season as the Stars GM. “You have ideas how you think you’re going to come together, but there’s always the unknown. . This year has been one of those years where right from the start, you could just see everything was kind of jelling.”

The Stars (28-13-10, 66 points) have their trio of 2017 draft picks that just keep getting better: All-Star winger Jason Robertson, goaltender Jake Oettinger and defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The seemingly ageless Joe Pavelski, at 38 and already re-signed for next season, is on the high-scoring top line with Robertson and point-a-game winger Roope Hintz. Wyatt Johnston, their first-round pick in 2021 and half Pavelski’s age, has 13 goals.

There is also the resurgence of six-time All-Star forward Tyler Seguin two years after hip surgery and 33-year-old captain Jamie Benn, who already has more goals (19) than he did playing all 82 games last season.

The Stars have a plus-40 goal differential, which is second-best in the NHL. They are averaging 3.37 goals per game, more than a half-goal better than last season when they were the only team to make the playoffs after being outscored in the regular season. They are also allowing fewer goals, and have improved on power plays and penalty kills.

“Where we sit at this break, I think guys are happy with that,” Seguin said, before being asked the keys to the Stars leading the West and on pace for a 100-point season with their new coach.

“Our style, our team speed, our puck speed, being predictable. All the clichés, knowing where the puck’s going. Really how we play the five-man unit,” he said. “Our pace this year, it’s been a lot quicker. There’s been some solid depth scoring this year while we’ve got one of the best lines in hockey.”

The Stars went into the break on their only three-game losing streak of the season, all 3-2 overtime losses at home.

“Those aren’t real losses,” said DeBoer, who twice has gone to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season with a new team. “I’m happy where we’re at. I like how we’re playing.”

Plus, Dallas won’t have to worry in the playoffs about 3-on-3 hockey, which has been the only real stain on their season so far. Only one team has more than its 10 losses after regulation.

“We’ve played a lot of good hockey. We’ve made a lot of good strides in our game,” DeBoer said. “We still have another level we have to get to when we get back, but there are a lot of good things that have happened. They’ve worked to have us where we are right now in the standings. Good spot to be in.”

The Stars have 31 games left in the regular season. The first four after the break at home, like the last four before their week-long hiatus.

Robertson’s 33 goals rank sixth in the NHL, and the 23-year-old has the same number of assists while averaging 1.29 points a game even after he missed most of training camp before signing a four-year, $31 million contract. Pavelski has 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) while playing every game, and Hintz 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists) in only 43 games.

Oettinger, who is 21-7 in regulation, has a .923 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average since signing his three-year, $12 million contract. That deal came after 223 saves in a seven-game playoff series against Calgary last May, capped by 64 in the series finale that went to overtime.

Nill said Robertson’s production has improved even with the league adjusting to the high-scoring forward, and that Oettinger is proving to be one of the league’s best goalies. But they are just part of what has been a tremendous team effort.

“They kind of had that mojo right from the start, and it was kind of this team’s got the right mix,” Nill said. “It’s come together well, and it’s shown in the standings. It’s been good to watch.”

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

Ilya Mikheyev
Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.