Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images
The Washington Capitals entered the game against the Florida Panthers 20th in penalty killing. Not ideal. The best way to curb that number is simple: don’t take penalties. The Caps did a good job of that for the first 15 minutes Saturday night, then took 6 penalties in the next 17:27. “They stack up.” coach Barry Trotz said after the 4-1 loss (1 an empty netter), “We can take the odd one, but once you start stacking them up it’s a recipe for disaster.”
One of those penalties allowed 1:45 of a 5-on-3, which resulted in a goals against. Another penalty negated a power play for the Capitals just 8 second into it. So not only were there a lot of penalties, a couple were very untimely. Add to this that the Capitals played just last night, so playing tired and killing penalties are a bad mix. And it was the penalties that ultimately doomed the Caps.
At 5-on-5, the Capitals ran the table with superb possession and quality chances. They led the Panthers with 67% possession, 70% scoring chances, and 63% in high danger scoring chances. That’s dominate and Trotz agrees, “5v5 we were right there, we probably should have scored another goal or 2.”
But it doesn’t help if the team can’t get it going as Lars Eller, who took 2 penalties, iterated, “We did all the right things at 5v5, but all the penalties disrupted the flow of our team. It’s hurting us a lot. I am guilty.” Trotz agreed, “The penalties have been an ongoing thing. It took all the rhythm out. If forced a big portion of our bench to sit there and get cold.”
The Florida Panthers understood that. They entered the game worst in penalty kill in the entire NHL. They only took only 2 penalties before the last 2 minutes of the game. And one of those penalties was instantly washed out by a Caps penalty. If you’re bad at something, don’t do it.
“It’s been hurting us through the first 9 games,” Eller stated,” We’ve been sitting too much in the penalty box.” He isn’t wrong. Before the game with the Panthers, the Capitals took the 7th most penalties in the league with 33. Combine that with having the 20th worst penalty kill and it won’t end well. It cost them against the Panthers, who scored 2 of their 3 goals on the power play. It arguably cost them against the Pittsburgh Penguins who scored all 3 of their goals on the power play a couple weeks back.
Luckily, it’s really early in the season and doesn’t seem to be stressing the team or coach too much. Eller stated, “We’re 9 games in and we’re not going to be discouraged.” Philipp Grubauer added, “It’s going to stop at some point.” But it’s definitely a trend that needs to end. It already cost them at least a couple of points and with the Metropolitan division being stacked every point counts.
It’s no secret the refs are calling a lot this season as Devante Smith-Pelley put, “I guess they’re calling it tighter.” So how do you stop the penalties? “We have to move our feet.” Grubauer answered, “I wouldn’t call it lazy but we are behind the play.” Trotz added, “We need to be better at controlling our sticks.” But it’s Eller that put it best, “It’s an easy fix. It’s a question of being a little more smart. That will improve our game a lot.” Being smart, that’s what it ultimately comes down.
By Luke Adomanis