The Washington Capitals have undergone many changes this summer. They have brought in some new faces, but they also decided to move on from some long tenured Capitals. Players such as Joel Ward, Eric Fehr, and Troy Brouwer are in new places.
All of these former Capitals played a major part in the club’s recent success. On Special Teams, the Capitals have had a pretty good powerplay unit the past couple of seasons. While the powerplay has been a strong area for the Capitals, the penalty kill has not matched the same kind of success.
In the 2014-15 NHL Season, the Capitals had the 14th best penalty killing unit in the NHL. The Capitals were a hair above average in the penalty killing area, and they only scored four shorthanded goals all of last season.
With the departures of forwards Joel Ward, Eric Fehr, and Troy Brouwer, the Capitals lost three out of their top six forwards who penalty killed the most last season. This a major blow to the Capitals penalty killing unit considering how many minutes the former Capitals contributed in this area.
Who Will Replace the Penalty Kill Minutes?
Now that the Capitals penalty kill has taken a major blow, who will replace all of the minutes that they have lost?
One of the Capitals newest additions is no stranger to penalty killing duty. He was ranked fourth among Blues forwards in 2014-15 in shorthanded time on ice. He averaged 1:19 of time on ice per game. Oshie is very capable at moving the puck up the ice in shorthanded situations and scoring beautiful shorthanded goals. Check out these shorthanded goals scored by T.J. Oshie:
Nicklas Backstrom has not had huge penalty killing role with the Capitals in recent seasons. In 2014-15, he had the sixth most penalty killing minutes among Capitals forwards. Even though his shorthanded time was short, I am confident that Nicklas Backstrom is a good penalty killer. Backstrom is one of the Capitals best centremen in the faceoff dot. He was 53.6% effective in the faceoff dot, only behind Troy Brouwer and Jay Beagle. Backstrom is the Capitals best two-way centre and is phenomenal at both ends of the ice. I remember this Nicklas Backstrom penalty killing shift from a few years ago that had Verizon Center up in applause.
Marcus is an interesting case for the Capitals. While he has not really had any penalty killing role for the club, he is exceptional when it comes to zone entries for the Capitals powerplay. Marcus is going to face a new role for the Capitals this season since he will not be playing in the top-six forward group as much. Could his minutes be shifted more to the penalty killing? Check out this beautiful shorthanded goal by Marcus Johansson that was scored a few years back.
The Young Capitals
Andre Burakovsky, Tom Wilson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Michael Latta should all have expanded roles with the Capitals for the upcoming season. Can a couple of these guys earn the trust of Barry Trotz to kill penalties? I feel that with the right development, the Capitals could ease a guy like Tom Wilson into the penalty killing role. Wilson is big and strong and can protect the puck. On top of that, his physical play is a perfect match for a penalty killing role.
On the Defensive Side of Things:
The Capitals did not suffer any major blows to the blueline when it came to the penalty kill. While Mike Green did contribute in this area, his role became drastically reduced under Barry Trotz. In 2014-15, Green had the fifth most shorthanded time on ice among Capitals defensemen.
With Green’s departure to Detroit, the Capitals will most likely give his shorthanded minutes to other defenseman like Dmitry Orlov, Nate Schmidt, and Taylor Chorney. The Capitals biggest minute munching defensemen (John Carlson, Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen, and Karl Alzner) will all be back in the mix for the Capitals next season.
Are the Capitals Better or Worse on the Penalty Kill?
The Capitals lost several penalty killing forwards this offseason. Do they have enough to be able to replace the guys who are no longer with the club?
It is tough to say whether the Capitals penalty kill will suffer next season. I am confident that Jay Beagle, Jason Chimera, Brooks Laich, Nicklas Backstrom, and Marcus Johansson will pick up some of the extra minutes lost. In addition to the Capitals returning from last year, the Capitals will get some extra help coming from newest Capital T.J. Oshie.
I am very interested to see if any of the Capitals young guys can step up into a penalty killing role. If a guy like Tom Wilson or Andre Burakovsky can take some minutes on the penalty kill, that will help the Capitals forward who kill penalties the most.
If I have to make some sort of prediction on how effective the Capitals penalty kill unit will be next season, I will say that I think it will be just as good and effective as 2014-15. I do not feel the Capitals penalty kill will have a huge drop-off (if any at all).
The Capitals should be quicker and should have more skill in their penalty killing units. While they will lose some toughness and strength, they will have quicker forwards. The penalty killers will look and will be different players. But I feel the new guys can step in and contribute in the same way the old Capitals players did.
I do not think the Capitals fans should think “doom-and-gloom” with the new penalty killing unit. The Capitals still have a good number of forwards and defensemen who can penalty kill well. While I still believe the penalty kill may be a work in progress, I feel that some of the Capitals younger players can step up and contribute more in the future. I would love to see Barry Trotz give Evgeny Kuznetsov, Tom Wilson, and Michael Latta more opportunities on the penalty kill as they all continue to develop their pro games. These players still have lots of room to grow and I believe they could each have success as penalty killers in the NHL.
By George Foussekis