Stay out of the box. We say it every postseason, but the results rarely vary. And while the Washington Capitals penalty kill has been up to the task and unbeaten so far this postseason, the degradation to the team’s resultant play is arguably deteriorating the Capitals overall game.
A good example can be drawn from Wednesday’s Game 5. The Capitals were called for two penalties in close proximity to each other (the red bands in graph below). The penalty kill was unbeaten, but immediately following the power plays, the Panther’s unleashed a furious barrage of shots.
The Capitals were lucky they didn’t give up a goal or more, as the Panthers fired 12 consecutive shots in a three-minute span (red circle) before the period expired. That’s “playing with fire,” as the saying goes.
The steep “stairway to hell” (I’ve dubbed them this series) is indicative of the the Capitals general struggles in the series. They face stretches in a game where they are taking on a tremendous number of shots in a very short period of time. The barrage of shots is often ignited immediately following a Capitals penalty kill.
There are a number of occasions where this has occurred in the first five games of the series.
Adding insult to injury, penalties are way up this postseason, for all teams, including the Capitals.
A Rise In Crime
There was clear indication right from the start of this year’s postseason. The NHL would be calling more penalties and the data is confirming that. In fact, penalties this postseason are way up when compared to previous seasons – the most we’ve seen since 2010.
We can debate if this actually makes a game more exciting, ruins the flow of a game, or even debate why the NHL wants more penalties in the first place, but the fact of the matter is we are seeing more penalties and the Capitals are, indirectly, paying the price, even with a perfect penalty kill.
HISTORICALLY, OUT OF BALANCE
Unfortunately for the Capitals, they have historically taken more penalties than the league average, both during the regular season and in the postseason. The data tells a peculiar tale.
Capitals Regular Season Penalties Per 60
The following chart shows the Capitals penalties taken per 60 for each regular season since 2010, the league average for each regular season and the Capitals differential from the league average for each regular season.
As you can clearly see in the graph, the Capitals have been getting called for more penalties than the league average for each and every season since 2010. (That’s as far back as I went when pulling data).
The reasoning for the Capitals always coming out with a negative differential each and every season is material for great debate. Players, coaches and management personnel have come and gone, but the song remains the same. It’s hard to believe.
It generates similar head-scratching to the Capitals net penalties historical trend I discussed last season. The graph for net penalties over the course of the entire franchise history almost looks “crafted”. A positive net differential for each and every season, up to the 1992-93 season, then mostly negative. The graph screams “concerted effort”.
Anyway, I digress. Back to penalties per 60.
The historic trends for the Capitals postseason penalties per 60 tells a similar tale.
Capitals Postseason Penalties Per 60
The story of the Capitals postseason penalties is very similar to their regular season results in recent years, although they were once consistently above water prior to the 2015-16 season.
The Capitals current rate per 60 this postseason is their highest postseason average since the 2015-16 season.
The Capitals will likely continue to see more penalties called on them than the league average for the remainder of this postseason (and possibly for seasons to come). Additionally, even a perfect penalty kill will not be enough to counter the degradation to the players. Staying out of the box most surely would.
By Jon Sorensen