Which Defenseman Should Anchor Capitals' Power Play?

For all that went wrong for the Washington Capitals last season, the power play was once again a source of strength. Tbe Capitals converted 23.4 percent of their power-play opportunities last season, tied for the highest success rate in the NHL. 

Opposing teams have struggled to thwart Washington's 1-3-1 formation, choreographed by former coach Adam Oates and overseen by assistant coach Blaine Forsythe. In all, the Capitals have scored a league-leading 107 5-on-4 goals over the past two seasons.

The man advantage should become even more formidable next season with the respective arrivals of assistant coach Todd Reirden and defenseman Matt Niskanen from the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have scored an NHL-leading 164 power-play goals since 2011 (and were the team which tied the Capitals atop the power-play percentage leaderboard last season).

Reirden will collaborate with Forsythe on the power play, and even with Oates having been replaced by Barry Trotz, it does not make too much sense to fix what it is not broken. 

Niskanen's addition provides the Capitals with three right-handed defensemen with power-play credentials, Mike Green and John Carlson being the others. In the interest of killing time during the midsummer doldrums, which defenseman should anchor Washington's vaunted power play?

Below is a chart documenting each player's power-play statistics during 5-on-4 play last season. A simplified explanation of the terms is underneath the chart. 

 Goals Assists TOI/G PShr SP Shots ON% Shots/60 iFenwick/60
Green 3 11 2:45 51.9% 88 35 46.1% 11.77 18.498
Carlson 5 16 3:08 53.9% 95 69 56.6% 16.72 21.081
Niskanen 3 12 2:59 45.5% 73 51 47.2% 12.81 19.086

(All statistics courtesy of NHL.comExtraSkater.com and stats.hockeyanalysis.com)

  • TOI/G: Power-play time on ice per game
  • PShr (Point share): Percentage of on-ice goals player had a point on (goals, assists)
  • SP (Setup passes): Estimate of passes by player that directly resulted in a shot attempt
  • ON% (On-net percentage): Percentage of shots by player that hit the net
  • Shots/60: Shots on goal by player per 60 minutes
  • iFenwick/60: Shots on goal/shot attempts (missed shots) by player per 60 minutes

Based on the table, Carlson was the most productive of the trio, scoring the most points, having a hand in the most goals and generating the most accurate shot attempts. (Carlson saw significantly more time on the power play than Green -- 257:56 to 193:31. Niskanen totaled 242:26.)

Something to consider: Carlson was one of three defensemen last season -- Philadelphia's Kimmo Timonen and Detroit's Niklas Kronwall were the others -- to average at least three minutes of power-play ice time and shorthanded ice time per game. He was also on the ice for 65.2 percent of Washington's shorthanded situations last season, the highest percentage in the NHL.

Carlson will assuredly continue to play a integral role on Washington's penalty kill next season. If Trotz wanted to spell Carlson for a few minutes with the Capitals on the power play, then he has two viable alternatives in Green and Niskanen, neither of whom are typically relied upon to kill penalties.

At the risk of copping out, the Capitals have three capable defensemen who can contribute to the power play. They are in good hands with all three and it never hurts to have options.

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.

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