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After simply dominating the Tampa Bay Lightning in Games 1 & 2 of the Eastern Conference Final in Tampa, the Capitals returned home with a 2-0 series lead and the momentum in their favor. While no one expected a sweep on either side, the Caps ended up losing both games at Capital One Arena, making Game 5 a vital game of the series. One of the biggest reasons is the Bolts’ power play, which has gone 6/13 in the series. Over the last two games, Capitals center Lars Eller has taken five penalties, which has put the team’s third-line center under a lot of criticism.
Of the five penalties taken by Eller, the Lightning have scored on four of the ensuing power plays. While the Caps’ seeming inability to prevent the Lightning from scoring is another issue altogether, Eller’s lack of discipline is a problem for the Capitals. Not only does it give a supremely loaded power play unit the chance to do damage to the Capitals’ penalty kill, it removes one of the Caps’ best penalty killers from the ice.
Lars Eller takes his fifth minor penalty in the past two games. Hooking.
— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) May 18, 2018
During the regular season, Eller averaged 1:48 minutes of shorthanded ice time a game and in the playoffs, has one blocked shot in 16 games. Eller is one of the Capitals’ most responsible two-way forwards and not having him on the ice inevitably hurts the team, both in terms of his role and allowing the Lightning the opportunity to score on the power play. When asked about Eller’s lack of discipline in the last two games, Head Coach Barry Trotz did not hesitate to place the blame squarely on his player’s shoulders:
“It’s way too many, that’s on Lars and no one else”
If the Capitals want to win this series, it has become all-too-clear that the difference in this series may ultimately be both teams’ ability to capitalize on their power play chances. And if the Caps want to win, they cannot afford to have one of their best penalty killers (and players in this series sans the penalties) in the box.
It may be possible that Eller is simply fatigued from playing increased minutes (He played 20 or more minutes in three of his last five games) in Nicklas Backstrom’s absence. Or perhaps it’s the strength of competition or possibly even adjustments made by Tampa Bay after losing two straight. Either way, it is on Eller and no one else.
By Michael Fleetwood