Over the Washington Capitals' last 20 games, the power play unit managed to score just eight goals in 54 power play opportunities. That's a 14.8-percent success rate, which, if spanned over the course of an entire season, would have tied the Winnipeg Jets as the lowest percentage in the NHL.
Flash forward to the Stanley Cup playoffs, where the Capitals' power play unit has been nothing short of dominant. In 17 power play opportunities across three games, Washington has managed to record 8 goals, a 47.1-percent success rate.
It's a huge reason the Capitals have managed to jump out to a 3-0 series lead, the first time the franchise has ever done so, over the Philadelphia Flyers.
Washington has managed to score 12 goals in the series, and in a heated rivalry where penalty minutes can start stacking up quickly, a successful power play unit can be the difference between moving onto the next round and packing up early.
"I think in a series like this, when there are a lot of penalties, it's very important to take care of the special teams," Nicklas Backstrom, who has recorded four power play points, said following Washington's 6-1 Game 3 win. "It's been so important so far. I mean, we are winning games with our special teams, so hopefully we can just keep it going."
And with each game comes more and more extra-man situations that allow the Capitals to flex those offensive muscles. In the third period of Game 3, the Flyers took eight penalties, including three misconduct penalties. The Capitals promptly took advantage of the opportunities, scoring four power play goals in the third period.
"The power play has lots of confidence," head coach Barry Trotz said. "And they keep giving us lots of practice."
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That game situation practice has resulted in direct fruition. And considering the extremely evident drastic change in overall success rate in such a quick period of time, whatever the Capitals have been doing over the last few games is working.
"I think we are using different things," Backstrom said. "We are shooting the puck and we are creating traffic in front of the net. We're doing all those things that (make) it hard for a defending team. That's the way we want to do it."
One noticeable "different thing" is the activation of John Carlson on the point. Over the course of those last 20 regular season games, Matt Niskanen was the primary man on the power play point.
In the playoffs, Niskanen was replaced by Carlson, and Carlson began to shoot the puck much more often. As a result, the power play unit added another legitimate scoring threat on the ice.
Prior to Carlson's insertion into the power play, Washington was getting the vast majority of its shots on goal from Alex Ovechkin near the left face-off dot and T.J. Oshie in the slot.
Now, that third scoring threat is forcing the Flyers to keep an eye on the point man at the top of the formation, and this new wrinkle is adding points on the board. Carlson has three power play goals in the three games, and added another two power play assists last night.
One of those came on the Capitals' opening goal of the game, a Carlson shot that tipped by Marcus Johansson in front of the net.
That's another "different thing" in Washington's power play. Johansson, normally situated behind the net along the board, has been sliding up a bit more often directly in front of the net, something he hadn't done as much in the regular season.
That means when the puck is given to Carlson, the Capitals have two players situated directly in front of the opposing goaltender. And that simple repositioning has given Johansson four power play points in the series.
The changes the Capitals have made to their power play unit is working. And in order for the Capitals to maintain that mojo and embark on a deep playoff run, it must continue to succeed.