|"Who Knows What Evil Lurks in the Heart of Men!"|
"The Capitals' power-play works the puck around from the far boards to the point...the puck moves from D-man to D-man...the point man serves up a one-timer opportunity for Alexander Ovechkin...who buries a slap-shot from the right circle for yet another Crazy 8 goal!"
(...and then that really annoying police siren goes off, and Ovechkin gets another awkward tattoo inked somewhere on his body, but I digress)
|Translation: "I Score on the First Date"|
The Capitals don't exactly employ a secretive power-play formula to achieve success, but succeed they have with the man-advantage: since Ovechkin joined Washington in 2005-2006, the Capitals have secured four of the top five season PP percentages, an insane statistical accomplishment.
Overall, the Ovechkin-led Caps' PP has clicked at 21.3% since Ovie joined their ranks, the highest conversion rate in the NHL over that time period.
The hated Philadelphia Flyers have enjoyed comparable success (19.9% PP since 2005-06, good for fourth best) using similar tactics and with inferior players, although they deviate in stationing Claude "BEST PLAYER IN THE WORLD!" Giroux as a pivot in the right circle instead of as the trigger man.
|Claude "Police Baton" Giroux|
Given the success both teams have enjoyed using a predictable power-play template, it's reasonable to ask why the Penguins (and other teams) have not attempted to take away the right circle from the Caps & Flyers and force them to score another way.
It's a fair question, as throwing a defensive shadow on Ovechkin and Giroux would negate both opponents' bread-and-butter formula for scoring while up a man, but would sacrificing a defender to cover the right circle actually work?
Problem #1: Rotating to the Point
Both Ovechkin and Giroux do, in fact, take up positions on different spots on the ice as puck rotation and defensive postures dictate. In particular, it's not unusual to see Ovechkin vacate the right circle and head to the right point.
Placing Ovechkin at the blue line forces the penalty-killers' hands a bit: if they commit a player to venture out past the circles, Washington is guaranteed an overload situation on at least one side of the netminder, creating a higher probability for successful cross-ice passes that not only force the goalie to move from side to side, but also breaks down the defensive formation as the PK is forced to rotate...
...which in turn allows Ovechkin or the other point-man to streak down the slot unmarked for a scoring opportunity.
Conversely, Ovechkin's release and accuracy is unique enough that he has the potential to score from the blue line via both his wrister and slap-shot. Thus, merely conceding Ovechkin the point shot is the type of poison no PK unit actively wants to pick, especially since Ovechkin will probably one-time his shot attempt and catch the goalie moving and not in ideal position to stop the puck.
Problem #2: Shadowing Might Not Work
If the Penguins were to commit a defender on the PK to taking away the right circle from the Flyers and/or Capitals, the entire focus of the penalty-kill would change. For instance, the goalie would assume that the right side of the ice would be covered and would dedicate the bulk of his focus to the slot and left circle, and defenders would shade toward covering these locations too.
While maintaining a good stick gap and keeping the power-play to the outside of the defensive zone seems like a significant win/win, the possibility of Ovechkin or Giroux executing a backdoor cut to the net and scoring remains very real.
This is a fancy way of saying, "If shadowing a great player was so easy, then everyone would do it." Ovechkin is a historic goal scorer because he excels at picking his spots and putting himself in the right position at the right time to receive a pass, and his teammates are always actively looking for him to finish.
Even the best defensive player would allow a shadowed player to slip past, and if the defense is fixated on protecting the other side of the ice, the likelihood of a backdoor goal is simply much greater.
Problem #3: A 4-on-3 Penalty-Kill is Less Than Ideal
Even if the shadow tactic works and keeps Ovechkin or Giroux off of the score sheet, simply allowing the opposition's power-play to run a modified 4-on-3 power-play is a major concession.
The biggest problem in defending a 4-on-3 is the amount of open ice with limited sticks and bodies to impede passing lanes. Offensive players can compound PK breakdowns by simply moving the puck down by the goal line, which forces defensive players to collapse down low, which opens up space in the slot and circle when the puck is rotated back up ice.
Basically, the premise of a shadow penalty-kill seems alluring, but with just a few minor adjustments, the assigned defender can easily get lost in space or taken entirely out of the play by a decoying Ovechkin or Giroux.
While it may drive Penguins' fans insane, their practice of staying in shooting lanes and trying to take away the cross-ice pass is definitely the safer, albeit less sexy defensive option when on the penalty-kill.