54° Good Morning
54° Good Morning

Keeping Ovechkin, Caps' power play in check are keys for Islanders

Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals celebrates

Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals celebrates after scoring a goal against the Carolina Hurricanes in the first period at Verizon Center on March 31, 2015. Credit: Getty Images / Patrick Smith

WASHINGTON - Everyone knows what's coming when the Capitals are on the power play: Alex Ovechkin is going to shoot, almost always from his spot in or around the faceoff circle to the goaltender's right.

So how come he's so hard to stop when the Caps are on their league-best power play?

"He's open because they seem to have a threat from every position," Cal Clutterbuck said. "A point guy [John Carlson] who, if you shoot over to [defend] Ovi, is capable of shooting the puck. They've got big bodies in front. Then you've got [Nicklas] Backstrom on the wall with the ability to make those plays. Ovi's not the only threat to worry about and that's what makes him that much harder to deal with."

The biggest mismatch of the first-round Stanley Cup series that begins here Wednesday night seems to be the Caps power play against the Islanders' penalty kill. It's No. 1 vs. No. 26, the rankings of the two special-teams units this season. Ovechkin's 25 power-play goals were only five fewer than the Sabres had as a team this season.

But the Islanders' penalty kill underwent a transformation over the last 18 games of the season, killing off 39 of 42 power plays and generally looking nothing like the group that had been allowing power-play goals at a 25.5-percent clip through the first 64 games.

"It's not much difference," Nikolay Kulemin said. "Doing what we've been doing, maybe doing it a little bit better. We try to be a little more active. But we try that all year. It's just working now."

The Islanders' main issues were poor clearing attempts and a lack of cohesion among the four penalty killers. Clutterbuck said one change in execution has made it easier to avoid those problems in the defensive zone.

"We're a lot better at holding the line when teams are trying to break in," he said. "Anytime you spend too much time in your zone, as we were, it's the same as five on five. You're playing with fire. So the forecheck and holding the line has been good. And the anticipating, forcing plays, has been better for us turning pucks over in that first 15-18 seconds."

The Islanders allowed three power-play goals in nine opportunities to the Caps in their four regular-season meetings -- not great, but the Caps should have something to worry about, too: They allowed four power-play goals in 13 Isles advantages, including overtime winners in both games played at Nassau Coliseum.

Game 1 usually features plenty of feeling out by both teams -- not necessarily for the opposition's structure and tendencies, but more for how the referees will call the game. If it's going to be tightly called or one team gets too much adrenaline going, the other could benefit quickly.

The Islanders (218 times short) were the fourth-least penalized team this season. The Caps (266) were tied for 20th.

"It can be a big swing whether you score or you don't," said Anders Lee, one of the top-unit power-play forwards. "In a loud building on the road, getting a couple on the power play early can set a tone."

Ovechkin is usually the one setting that tone. The Islanders have their work cut out for them from the start Wednesday night. Thanks to a good penalty-killing run to close the season, they seem better prepared to do that work.

New York Sports