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.

Aleksander Barkov can’t stop scoring ridiculous goals for the Panthers

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How’s your week going? For Aleksander Barkov, it’s been quite good.

The Florida Panthers captain has been on an offensive tear, scoring five goals and registering nine points in three games. In each of those three games he’s scored a highlight-reel goal.

Let’s take a look.

Sunday

The 2018-19 goal of the year competition might have ended Sunday afternoon when Barkov drove to the net and went between-the-legs to beat Carey Price.

He would end the night with his second career hat trick.

“I’ve seen those [goals] in the YouTube and in highlights, and I was just dreaming about maybe one day I can score that kind of goal,” Barkov said afterward. “I think I’ve tried that like 17 times in my career. It worked [for] the first time. I’m happy, but, of course, more importantly we got the two points.”

Tuesday

Continuing to add to his highlight reel, Barkov took a pass from Jonathan Huberdeau and brought it between-his-legs and nonchalantly tucked it under Buffalo Sabres goaltender Linus Ullmark’s pad.

“I was kind of trying to look for a pass until the end,” Barkov said. “Then I just tried to jam it in the goalie’s pads, maybe get a rebound. Then, behind the net, I saw the puck was in the net. I would call it a lucky goal.”

Thursday

In a back-and-forth game against the Carolina Hurricanes, Barkov evened the score after a wild deflection from a Evgenii Dadonov shot-pass that was going very, very wide.

At only 23 years old, we have plenty of years left to enjoy the wonder that Barkov brings to the ice every night.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Hurricanes’ Justin Williams scores with face, then scores with stick

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Go to the net and good things will happen. Coaches tell players that all the time with the hope that good positioning will result in a goal. Justin Williams learned that the hard way Thursday night, joining a club that Connor Garland of the Arizona Coyotes entered earlier this season.

As the Carolina Hurricanes continue chasing one of the Eastern Conference’s wild card spots, they visited the Florida Panthers and opened the scoring in unusual fashion.

Just a few minutes into the first period, Brett Pesce sent a shot toward the Panthers’ net and it ended up deflecting off Williams’ face and past James Reimer into the Florida net. Williams, as you see, crumpled to the ice in a scary scene.

Williams would leave the game with blood dripping from his face and return only a few minutes. Later in the game the Hurricanes captain, with a nostril full of gauze, would use his stick to score and snap a 3-3 tie:

That second goal would stand as the winner and give the Hurricanes a 4-3 victory and help them move past the Columbus Blue Jackets for the Eastern Conference’s final wild card.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Kucherov needs only 62 games to reach 100 points

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Nikita Kucherov‘s magnificent season continued on Thursday night when he became the first player in the NHL to hit the 100 point mark this season.

He reached it by scoring his 30th goal of the season to tie their game against the Buffalo Sabres, 1-1, midway through the second period.

This is a big deal for a couple of reasons.

For one, it is the second year in a row Kucherov has hit the century mark and makes him one of just six active players in the NHL to have multiple 100 point seasons, joining a list that includes only Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin, Joe Thornton, and Connor McDavid.

What makes this one so special for Kucherov is that he only needed 62 games to reach it, an unprecedented accomplishment in this era of the NHL. You have to go all the way back to the 1995-96 season to find the last time a player hit the 100-point mark this quickly when it was done by Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Before them you have to go back to 1994 when Wayne Gretzky did it for the Los Angeles Kings.

Obviously some pretty good company to be with.

Given the way Kucherov is not only running away with the scoring title, but is also having arguably the best offensive season the league has seen in 25 years, and is doing it for what is by far the best team in the NHL he would seem to be the runaway favorite to win the MVP award this season.

It would be awfully difficult to build an argument against him at this point.

Related: Lightning’s Kucherov is having season for the ages

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.

WATCH LIVE: Predators host Kings on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Thursday night’s matchup between the Los Angeles Kings and Nashville Predators. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Nashville Predators could end up being one of the biggest buyers during the impending trade deadline, but as far as Thursday’s concerned, they hope to beat the Los Angeles Kings.

If Nashville wins this game, they’d climb over the Winnipeg Jets for first place in the Central Division, at least for a little while.

[More on the Predators having the Central in their sights]

The Kings are on a five-game losing streak, so it will be a challenge to keep their heads high entering a four-game road trip. For all we know, we might see certain Kings players suit up for L.A. for the last time (or last times) before possibly being moved. That thought likely also cross the minds of various low and mid-level Predators, in the event that Nashville has to give up parts in a splashy move.

Fans can also witness the slightly under-the-radar dominance of the Predators’ top line, although it’s possible that Viktor Arvidsson might not be able to suit up alongside Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen on Thursday.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Los Angeles Kings at Nashville Predators
Where: T-Mobile Arena
When: Thursday, Feb. 21, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Kings-Predators stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

KINGS
Alex IafalloAnze KopitarDustin Brown
Brendan LeipsicJeff CarterTyler Toffoli
Trevor LewisAdrian KempeIlya Kovalchuk
Kyle CliffordMichael AmadioAustin Wagner

Derek ForbortDrew Doughty
Oscar FantenbergPaul LaDue
Dion PhaneufMatt Roy

Starting goalie: Jonathan Quick

PREDATORS
Filip Forsberg — Ryan Johansen — Kevin Fiala
Colton SissonsKyle TurrisCalle Jarnkrok
Brian BoyleNick BoninoRyan Hartman
Cody McLeodFrederick GaudreauRocco Grimaldi

Roman JosiRyan Ellis
Mattias EkholmP.K. Subban
Dan HamhuisYannick Weber

Starting goalie: Pekka Rinne

Alex Faust (play-by-play) and Brian Boucher (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn. Pre-game coverage starts at 7 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Kathryn Tappen with Jeremy Roenick and Keith Jones.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.