The Seismic Shift In Net Penalties For The Washington Capitals Franchise

Photo: Nick Wass / AP

The recent on-ice blunder by former NHL official Tim Peel gave the hockey world a bit of a jolt. Peel was caught on a hot mic openly admitting he was looking to even-up penalties in a game. The Peel gaffe left some questioning the integrity of the game, but more importantly, it ignited discussion regarding the nature and validity of penalties in the game of hockey. 

While the event was controversial, it also caused a few to begin looking a little closer at penalties called in recent games, over the course of a season, or in this case, over the entire history of a franchise.

So what is the Capitals’ history with penalties?


Net penalties, or the differential in penalties, simply takes the difference in penalties drawn and penalties taken by a player or team. A positive number means the team is drawing more penalties than they are being called for.


Often when an analyst wants to look at the Capitals franchise in its entirety, they begin to assess and compare certain periods during the organization’s existence. A first elementary step is often to look at the franchise during the pre-Ovechkin era, and compare the results with the Ovechkin era.

This seemed like as good a place to start as any with regards to assessing penalties over the course of the Capitals franchise history.

Pre-Ovechkin Era (1974 – 2004)

Prior to the Ovechkin era, the Capitals had the league’s best net penalty differential, with 710 more penalties drawn than penalties taken from 1974 to 2004.

That’s impressive, and something younger fans probably find difficult to digest. The Capitals benefiting from penalties over the course of an entire season?

So what about during the Ovechkin era?

After (2005 – 2021)

The opposite is true for the Ovechkin era.

The Capitals have the second-worst penalty differential during the Ovechkin era, second only to the Anaheim Ducks. The Capitals have taken 314 more penalties than they have drawn.

That’s more than 1,00o penalties in difference between the two eras. That’s seismic.

So what gives? Was it Ovechkin? Does the league not like Russian players? Nope.

We have to dig a little deeper to see that the shift in net penalties for the Capitals franchise actually began well before Alex made his way to the District.


The Capitals franchise had a positive differential for each and every season from 1974 to 1993 (first 19 seasons). Then it all changed. The graph below plots the net penalties for every season in Capitals franchise history.

The shift in net penalties is easily identified and somewhat shocking as soon as you glance at the graph. The change is clear and concise.

The actual shift began after the 1990-91 season, with the first of many negative penalty differentials starting with the 1993-94 season. The Capitals have had a negative differential for 23 of the next 25 seasons.

So the next question is why? We will dig into that in the next post.

By Jon Sorensen

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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3 Responses to The Seismic Shift In Net Penalties For The Washington Capitals Franchise

  1. vanorm says:

    What a tease !

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      Apologies Norm, it takes time to research and write these. It’s better divided in two parts.

    • Anonymous says:

      As Peel noted out loud, the league penalizes success in an attempt to keep games close.
      During the OV era, the Caps been one of the top scoring teams in the league, thus the
      increase. A couple years ago, the officiating crew also got game reports which told them
      who was getting called for penalties. I don’t know if they still do but all that did was make
      the officials biased before the game even started.

      The other issue is the industry still blames the Caps for knocking Cidney out of the game
      for a year. Even though he played the very next game where Hedman plastered him to
      the glass.

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