WASHINGTON -- It's hard to quantify just how much the Washington Capitals have missed Nicklas Backstrom since their No.1 center suffered a concussion Jan.3.
The Caps have won 11 of the 26 games he has missed and they have been held to two goals or less 15 times over that stretch.
But nowhere has Backstrom's absence been felt more of late than on Washington's woeful power play -- a unit that has gone 2-for-34 over its last ten games.
"Our power play is killing us," said Capitals defenseman Dennis Wideman. "We're making wrong reads, we're not backing each other up when there's a bouncing puck. We're giving up breakaways and goals every game and we're not scoring or even creating chances. Our power play is absolutely killing us."
Following Friday's 5-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils -- a game in which the Caps' power play went 0-for-2 while allowing a shorthanded goal against -- coach Dale Hunter spoke of the challenge in trying to replace Backstrom on the half wall on the Caps No.1 PP unit.
"We have to play safer," Hunter said, "get it down low and just get pucks to the net… We're looking for a half board guy; you can see us trying different guys on the half board with Nicky out. He was our half board guy for years and we're still looking."
Hunter hopes that half wall position can be successfully filled by Alex Ovechkin beginning tonight against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Ovechkin has spent much of his power play time this season at the left point but with four capable defensemen in Wideman, Mike Green, John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov, Hunter has decided to shift Ovechkin to the half wall and will go with two defensemen on each power play unit.
The decision to go with two defensemen on the power play could also have to do with the troubling trend which has seen the Capitals allow four shorthanded goals in their last ten games -- the same stretch in which they have scored just two power play goals of their own.
"They can defend a one-on-one better," Hunter explained. "They're just calmer back there than having [Brooks Laich] or Ovi back there. It's tougher on a forward because you're not comfortable and so we'll put them up front and we've got four pretty good offensive D so we'll use it."
In addition the changes on the power play, former Flyer Mike Knuble will also return to the Capitals' lineup after sitting as a healthy scratch in four straight games in 7 of 11 overall.
Michal Neuvirth is expected to make his fifth straight start, with Braden Holtby serving as the backup. Holtby was recalled from AHL Hershey this morning, with Tomas Vokoun sidelined day-to-day with a lower body injury.
Washington's projected lineup for tonight's game against the Flyers is included below:
Alex Ovechkin – Marcus Johansson – Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera – Mathieu Perreault – Alexander Semin
Matt Hendricks- Brooks Laich – Mike Knuble
Jay Beagle – Jeff Halpern – Joel Ward
Karl Alzner – John Carlson
Jeff Schultz – Mike Green
Dmitry Orlov – Dennis Wideman