As the dog days of August continue and about five weeks left until training camp, it’s time to hypothesize and have fun predicting things again. Today we visit special teams: the penalty kill and power play. Last season, the Caps’ power play percentage dropped meteorically compared to the previous season, while their penalty kill did exactly the opposite. The result was a still successful regular season team, but the Caps still struggled to come up with the big goals that they needed when they were on the power play in the postseason, particularly against Tampa. This year? They aim to become the Canucks, who were near the top of the league in both power play and penalty kill last season. And Washington has the talent to do it.
Power Play Unit A: Carlson, Wideman (Points); Backstrom, Ovechkin (Half walls); Knuble (Net)
Since the Caps now have four good puck moving defensemen on their roster, I think you will see all defensemen on the point on the man advantage this year from Bruce Boudreau. I picked Wideman and Carlson to go on the top unit because I think that they could be a potent combination up top and because Mike Green, in turn, would probably face the opposition’s “B” penalty killers after the first shift. As for Ovechkin not being on the point: it doesn’t work anymore. He’s too bad defensively to cover up there and he’s better used on the power play thumping people in the corners and getting to the net from inside the circles. Backstrom is the obvious choice to center the top unit, while I think Mike Knuble still has that bull mentality in front to bang them home.
Power Play Unit B: Hamrlik, Green (Points); Johansson, Semin (Half walls); Brouwer (Net)
Hamrlik and Green fill out the Caps’ 4 puck-moving defensemen, as Green has obviously had tremendous success running the power play in DC before, while Hamrlik was a top-unit player this year on a Montreal man advantage that converted 19.7% of it’s opportunities last season despite being without one of the best PP defensemen in the league in Andrei Markov for 75 games. Semin, when he’s on, is electric and deserves power play ice time no matter what; while Johansson can, and hopefully will, develop into a very good passer who can facilitate with the extra man. Troy Brouwer definitely has that bull mentality in front of the net; he seems the obvious choice as the second unit net man.
Penalty Kill Unit A: Carlson, Alzner (Defense); Ward, Halpern (Forwards)
As the top defensive pairing at even strength and on the penalty kill last year, it stands to reason that Carlson and Alzner will fill those roles again and fill them well. Up top, the acquisition of both Ward and Halpern will hopefully help the penalty kill as they both played a ton of shorthanded ice for their old teams last season and did it well. Their absence from the power play, at least by my estimation, will also aid their ability to focus on shorthanded situations.
Other Players Likely to See Significant Time on the PP: Laich, Ward
Penalty Kill Unit B: Schultz, Green (Defense); Laich, Backstrom (Forwards)
Both Schultz and Green are proficient shot blockers and were both key parts of the penalty kill last year when they were healthy. These qualities, and their likely continued improvement defensively, put them over Wideman and Hamrlik for the last two regular PK spots; Wideman isn’t very good defensively and Hamrlik is too old to play consistent heavy minutes at even, the PP, and PK. As for forwards, Brooks Laich was one of the Caps’ top two shorthanded forwards last season; I see no reason why his ability would have changed and having him on the second unit should only benefit the Caps. Backstrom led the Caps’ forwards in blocks last season; his willingness to do this and his speed make a fine final option.
Other Players Likely to See Significant Time on the PK: Johansson, Semin, Brouwer, Hendricks