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Kuznetsov/Backstrom Switch Gives Caps PP Another Weapon

October 11, 2018, 7:32 AM ET [2 Comments]
Sheng Peng
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Gretzky had his office behind the net, Ovechkin has the "Ovie Spot" -- that's the top of the left circle on the power play.

For over a decade, Alexander Ovechkin has been peppering goalies from his perch, the main man on Washington's power play.

Last night against the Golden Knights, the winger took the 1,400th and 1,401st recorded power play shots of his career. The closest Capital in that timespan -- from 2006-07, when the league began recording the stat, to now -- is Mike Green with 440 PP shots. In fact, the closest NHL player is Evgeni Malkin with 946.

The Caps would top the Knights 5-2.

Winning Play

So if everybody knows where the puck is going on the Washington power play, why can't anybody stop it?

Naturally, over the years, Ovechkin's supporting cast on the power play has been sensational. From Green to mainstay Nicklas Backstrom (19) to more recently, Evgeny Kuznetsov (92), the Capitals have consistently featured deadly alternatives to draw attention away from Ovechkin.

Case in point, Backstrom and Kuznetsov on the man advantage last night.

Backstrom and Kuznetsov's interchangeability on these goals is impressive. These goals mirror each other, except the natural centermen have changed positions.

On the first goal, Backstrom, from the half wall, hits Kuznetsov around the net. On the 3-1 strike, Kuznetsov, from the half wall, hits Backstrom around the net.

Both brilliant left-handed playmakers, this is no accident.

"We're looking to score goals differently within our same structure," said Todd Reirden. "Everyone is very aware of where our players are & who they are."

Last night, the Caps successfully set up their favorite power play formation -- Ovechkin at the left circle, T.J. Oshie (77) in the high slot, John Carlson (74) at the point, and Backstrom/Kuznetsov alternating between half wall/around the net -- nine times. Kuznetsov was on the half wall four times; Backstrom five.

Reirden added, "We've had the creativity to try different stuff to keep teams on their heels. Show different looks. Players moving to different spots."

This interchangeability is a relatively new wrinkle to Washington's attack, as Kuznetsov didn't join the top power play unit until last year, after Marcus Johansson was dealt to New Jersey.

Johansson did not switch with Backstrom like that; he was tethered to the net, while Backstrom hung by the wall.

Meanwhile, Backstrom and Kuznetsov seem to switch off at will, depending on convenience. If Backstrom has the puck first along the wall, Kuznetsov heads to the net, and vice versa.

Kuznetsov and Backstrom connected on similar power play goals last year:

"It's been an evolution over the last two years. We had a lot of success with that in the playoffs," indicated Reirden.

This interchangeability can be valuable in many ways. It can confuse the penalty kill. It can also buy a valuable split-second for the offense, as players can set up quicker.

In total, Kuznetsov and Backstrom tried this power play maneuver four times last night, scoring twice. Here are the other two attempts:

View post on imgur.com

Marc-Andre Fleury stops Kuznetsov, but seconds later, Backstrom would give Washington a 3-1 lead.

View post on imgur.com

Brayden McNabb (3) deflects the Kuznetsov pass to Carlson, who's switched himself, taking Ovechkin's spot.

Pretty plays, but my favorite thing about them is the hide-and-seek game that Kuznetsov and Backstrom play with the Golden Knights PK. This also happens on the Backstrom marker:

View post on imgur.com

In each clip, Kuznetsov and Backstrom evade attention by swinging around the net, hanging below the goal line, then popping out when the pass is possible.

Rightly so, Ovechkin deserves the lionshare of credit for Washington's consistently dangerous power play. But this darting Kuznetsov-Backstrom tip -- along with Oshie's shot -- divert enough attention from Ovechkin so the sniper has that extra split-second to bomb away.

As Ovechkin ages, wrinkles like these will keep the Capitals power play fresh.

Ultimately, it's a symbiotic relationship. Here's another view of Kuznetsov to Backstrom -- Kuznetsov looks off Backstrom, causing Jon Merrill (15) and Nick Holden (22) to shade toward Oshie and Ovechkin:

View post on imgur.com

Without Ovechkin commanding the entire penalty kill's attention, maybe Kuznetsov can't thread the no-look pass.

I wish I could give similar compliments to the Golden Knights power play, but they haven't earned them.

Now 0-11 to start the season -- and with no relief in sight, as Paul Stastny, Alex Tuch, and Nate Schmidt are all out for significant stretches -- Vegas has a broken power play right now.

In a change from last year, Colin Miller started the season quarterbacking William Karlsson's power play unit. After two games, that experiment was abandoned.

Meanwhile, Oscar Lindberg, Ryan Carpenter, and Tomas Nosek, who have combined for one career NHL power play goal, are taking regular power play shifts.

Last night, Gerard Gallant and Ryan Craig saw enough by the third period, putting together a power play super-group made up of the Karlsson line, Max Pacioretty, and Shea Theodore. From it, Jonathan Marchessault hit a post.

We'll see if this promising group gets another look tonight in Pittsburgh, as the Golden Knights face a back-to-back.


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