It’s something that’s been a bit of a problem almost all year. Taking penalties. The Capitals rank in the top five in the NHL in minor penalties taken for the season and since December 5th, they lead the entire NHL in total penalties with 126 penalties taken.
For a lot of the season it hasn’t been a big deal. The Capitals’ penalty kill has ranked near the top of the league for most of this season. From November 13th, all the way to January 15, the Caps ranked number one in PK% at 88.2%.
It’s a problem now. Since January 20th, the Capitals rank 28th in PK%. Washington has allowed seven power play goals in twenty two attempts. That’s a 68.2% PK. The Caps have also allowed eight power play goals in their last eight games, which goes back to January 16th.
Why has the penalty killing been so good for most of the season and is now giving up nearly a goal a game? Sometimes power plays and penalty kills go through these streaks, it’s just the way things go during a long, grueling season. But it’s no fun to leave an argument there, so let’s take a look at some recent power play goals against.
Boston Bruins PPG, Brad Marchand, 18:46 1st period. Bruins forward David Pastrnak comes in up the middle and dishes the puck to Patrice Bergeron on his right. Pastrnak drives the middle and opens up a passing lane to Brad Marchand, who skates into the slot, wide open and scores.
The Caps were changing on this play. Tom Wilson was on the far side and went across to change, the puck was on the Bruins’ side of center, but Boston quickly went back up and in and the fresh penalty killer couldn’t get into the play. Marchand is able to easily skate into a great scoring position and get a goal.
Boston Bruins PPG, Brad Marchand, 2:49 2nd period. Honestly I’ve looked at all the power play goals against recently, and this is the only one that didn’t look great. Too many passes through the middle of the ice and the play gets finished off with a nice tic-tac-toe play.
After a pass through the middle, Pastrnak missed the net on a shot. The puck goes up the right side boards. Lars Eller can’t get it and Bruins defenseman Ryan Spooner chips it to the middle of the ice where Bergeron picks it up. Wilson ends up chasing him up high and Eller goes to him as well. Bergeron throws a pass between them to Pastrnak at the top of the left circle. Now, Wilson and Eller are too high. Pastrnak throws a pass through the middle to Spooner and Spooner feeds (Spooner, spoon, feeds, get it?) Marchand alone on top of the crease for a tap in. Too many passes through the middle of the ice, and again Marchand alone in a dangerous spot.
New York Islanders PPG, Alan Quine, 2:41 2nd Period. Nicklas Backstrom loses a faceoff in the defensive zone. The puck goes to Islanders defenseman Calvin de Haan, who skates a little bit along the blueline before he throws it back to Andrew Ladd on the board. Ladd has skating room to the top of the faceoff circle and he rips a shot that hits the post. The puck then goes right to Alan Quine, who’s wide open on Philipp Grubauer’s left side.
Players seemed to give up a little bit after the shot hit the post, but not sure anyone could have done anything at that point. Only thing to stop this goal was to not let Ladd’s shot get through.
New Jersey Devils PPG, Adam Henrique, 18:16 2nd period. A good kill. The only chance before the eventual goal came from Braden Holtby, who almost scored on himself on a weird play behind his own net. The next trip down the ice, the Devils set up, P.A. Mike Parenteau is on the right hand side, throws a pass across the ice to the other boards, Cammalleri glides to the top of the faceoff circle and shoots. Adam Henrique is all alone in front of Holtby and the Capitals’ goal.
He’s setting a screen and ends up deflecting Cammalleri’s shot. The defense was too high on this. Taylor Chorney went up to get in a shooting lane, but it left Henrique all alone in front of the goalie.
Ottawa PPG Zach Smith, 11:57 2nd period. The Capitals are on the PK and successfully kill it. A few seconds later, Evgeny Kuznetsov takes another penalty. It’s another good kill until late in the penalty, when Ryan Dzingel is on the boards, makes a move in towards the middle, and then goes back to the boards. That makes Eller move up a little higher, it ended up being too high. Dzingel puts a pass in between Eller and Brooks Orpik, and Zach Smith is in the slot untouched and redirects the puck in for a goal. Smith had too much room in the slot. Eller moving up just a little bit to cover the pass to the point opened up a passing lane. Wilson doesn’t tie up Smith in the slot.
Carolina Hurricanes PPG, Jordan Staal, 4:39 1st period. Jay Beagle loses a faceoff cleanly. The puck ends up on Elias Lindholm’s stick on the goal line. Karl Alzner goes down early to try to get in the passing lane. It takes him out of the play, and Linholm sauces a nice pass to Jordan Staal, who’s all alone in the slot. No chance for Holtby. Alzner and Matt Niskanen both went to Lindholm down low and no one covered Staal in the most dangerous spot on the ice.
Dallas Stars PPG, Jamie Benn, 15:59 2nd period. A play that goes in on the left wing side. The puck gets thrown around the boards to the other side. Orpik gets tied up by Jamie Benn on the boards and is unable to get the puck. Jason Spezza goes back to the point, John Klingberg then goes to Tyler Seguin at the top of the left side circle. Nate Schmidt leaves Patrick Eaves right in front of the crease. Seguin hits Eaves and his redirection goes off the post. Benn, who is standing on the far post, puts in the rebound before Orpik can get to him.
Is anyone else starting to see a little bit of a trend here? An open guy in the slot.
Pittsburgh Penguins PPG, Evgeni Malkin, 17:19 2nd period. Eller scores a shorthanded goal at the 16:54 mark of the period. After being up 3-0 in this game, it was 5-3 before the Eller goal. Evgeni Malkin quickly comes back with a PPG. I’m honestly not sure what you can point to here. Malkin has the puck on the right side boards. Alzner puts pressure on him and pins him against the boards. Patric Hornqvist comes over and swats the puck back to the point for Phil Kessel. Kessel tries to go to Sidney Crosby. Crosby, who has Alzner all over him with no time, makes a nice flick pass down to Malkin. Niskanen tries to get the puck before Malkin, but he doesn’t. Malkin makes a nice move to get around Niskanen with the puck. After that, Malkin just won’t give up, and it finds its way in through a bunch of bodies. This play went to a coach’s challenge and the goal ended up counting. The only thing to say here is Niskanen got beat by Malkin, which opened a lane to the net.
The penalty kill hasn’t been bad, it’s just letting up goals. Yes, I’m aware that sounds somewhat hypocritical, but just because goals are going in doesn’t mean the whole thing is bad.
Barry Trotz said recently that a lot of these goals are happening late in the kill. It’s mostly true. Like I said, it’s not as though the whole killing session has been bad. They seem to be letting up one chance late, and it’s costing them.
There is something to watch for though, and that seems to be a guy right in the middle of the ice that the Caps just can’t seem to cover. These guys are getting open and redirecting shots, or getting clean looks just a couple of feet away from the goalie.
I’m not sure the PK is really something to worry about yet. All the Caps need to do is just cover the slot up a bit better and things should improve.
By CJ Witt